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Will it ever be possible

Will it ever be possible to force gays back into the closet? That rhetorical question is considered a crushing rejoinder when someone objects to the attempt to normalize homosexuality. Whoever is making the objection, it implies, is a typical reactionary—either he hasn’t thought things through, and is living in the past, or else he’s planning something really brutal and oppressive.

The answer, of course, is that it’s not a matter of force but of accepted public principle. On liberal principles the closeting of homosexuality is oppressive because it doesn’t belong in the closet—it’s as respectable as any other form of sexual expression. On traditional principles that make the sexual affiliation of men and women fundamental to social order, however, homosexuality is at odds with the kinds of connections that ought to exist among people. It’s treason against the social constitution. From that point of view it’s as bad as liberals think racism is. So if traditional views of sex come once again to prevail the closeting of homosexuality will be as natural as the closeting of sympathy with Le Pen is in France today. It really won’t be a matter of force.

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Changing something from an adjective

Changing something from an adjective to a noun isn’t always a good idea. For example, it’s usually better to be liberal, libertarian or conservative than a liberal, libertarian or conservative. As someone on the right, of course, I believe that is most true of liberalism. Freedom and equality, the only moral standards liberalism is willing to appeal to, can’t by themselves justify coercion, but the liberal attempt to enforce them in all aspects of life turns out to require lots of coercion. As a result, taken as a noun—as a self-subsistent thing—liberalism contradicts itself and leads to endless deceit, obfuscation and corruption. There are problems being a libertarian as well. “Small government” is a good thing for all sorts of reasons, but turning that goal into the political summum bonum is inexplicable except on a theory that makes doing whatever you can do and want to do the final joy of all desiring. And what about conservatism? It too falls apart as a final principle. Conservatism is about tradition, but tradition isn’t about itself but about something that goes beyond it. It can’t be purely traditional. What do we do, since none of these principles is adequate? An appeal to generalized good sense is too vague to be helpful. It seems to me that the need for an overall guiding principle that has content but nonetheless exceeds our grasp—if we could see around the principle it would be too limited—gives politics an essential religious element. Without that element politics becomes irrational and turns into either opportunism or brutal and narrowminded dogma. So religion isn’t alien to politics. Rather, religion is the only element in which politics can, in the long run, make sense.

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In its boring way, USA

In its boring way, USA Today takes offense because pilots want to be armed in case of a hijacking. Let the pros take care of it—like Norm Mineta, whose major contribution so far has been to insist that Arab men and Russian babushkas get watched equally. The point, of course, is political and not technical. If sky marshalls have guns then deadly force remains in the hands of government agents, so regardless of what actually happens the principle is preserved that everything is under control. If pilots have them it creates the impression that sometimes people have to act for themselves, and who knows what that might lead to?

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Another problem with antiracism ideology

Another problem with antiracism ideology—you simply can’t talk about what actually happens, because the ideology only works if white people and their attitudes are the only problem. That’s obviously not so, though. How long can the pretense be kept up, and what happens when the lid comes off?

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Current notions of shocking comments,

Current notions of shocking comments, courtesy of Prince Philip.

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The proposed EU definition of

The proposed EU definition of racism and xenophobia as involving “the belief in race, color, descent, religion, or belief, national or ethnic region, as a factor determining aversion to individuals or groups” logically criminalizes any expression of ethnic, national or religious attachment. After all, if I love France and the French, then whether people are French or not affects how I feel about them and thus becomes “a factor determining aversion to individuals or groups.” People have no idea how radical antiracism is.

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The possible EU dispute with

The possible EU dispute with the bible (see below) shows the problem with the attempt to set up an international community among people with very different views by agreeing on a list of basic human rights and basing the community on that. The problem is that whatever principle is authoritative in the highest political community sooner or later becomes authoritative throughout the whole of life, because the highest community has responsibility for ensuring peace and so must be able to demand a loyalty that overrides all others. If it can’t demand that loyalty then there will be some conflicts it won’t be able to settle. Liberal human rights theory starts by trying to make some list of rights on which everyone agrees the highest authority. But since there’s no list on which everyone agrees, the list will in fact be one that someone decides everyone should agree to if differing substantive views of the good are ignored. In other words, it will be a full-blown restatement of liberalism, one that in fact turns out to settle all fundamental political and social issues. It has to do so in order to serve as a basis of political order when there is not much else on which agreement can be expected. It is therefore full-blown liberalism that becomes authoritative in the highest political community and in time everywhere else. So after a while it becomes illegal to distribute bibles. After all, the highest community is responsible for establishing peace, which for liberals is the greatest good. It must therefore be able to head off threats to peace, like things that reduce attachment to liberal principles. Attachments to nationality, religion, traditional ways and so on must therefore be rooted out, because they compete with attachment to liberalism. Hence the extreme sensitivity in the EU to “racism,” “xenophobia” and so on. Any fundamental attachment to something that isn’t liberal principle threatens peace, because it raises the possibility of conflicts liberal principle can’t resolve. And a government that’s cut itself off from religious, ethnic and historical roots, and so is based solely on liberal principle, can’t permit that.

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It’s somewhat good news of

It’s somewhat good news of course that UN Child Summit negotiations are stymied. “Permanently dead” would be better, though. Do you want the UN looking after any young people you know?

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Distributing the bible could be

Distributing the bible could be a criminal offense under a proposed EU antiracism law.

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There’s something terribly wrong with

There’s something terribly wrong with Arab public life. I’ve liked most of the Arabs I’ve met—better, in fact, than most Israelis. Whatever human weaknesses and vices the Arabs have though they seem to turn into political theories. It has nothing to do with intelligence or education. Here, for example, are the comments of the Chairman of the Arab Psychiatrists Association: Bush is stupid, perpetrating a suicide attack is life’s most beautiful moment, we’ll throw Israel Into the sea.

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A possible exchange: Alter: So

A possible exchange:

Alter: So why do you say there’s a liberal tyranny in America today? So far as I can see you can pretty much do or say what you want. Ego: But am I free to live the way someone ought to live? Alter: What do you mean? Whatever you think is right you can do so long as you don’t break any laws. Ego: That’s not true though. For example, I think it’s right to raise my children to love their country, respect adults in authority, and do what’s right. That’s hard to do if the country has adopted bad principles and the adults in authority—teachers, people on TV, whoever—insist on them and say people who teach their children the opposite should be ignored. It’s next to impossible if it’s a democratic country based on big organizations and mass communications so that there’s no place to hide unless you turn your family into hermits. And I don’t think it’s right for most people to be hermits. So in fact I can’t do what I think is right. Alter. That’s crazy though. You’re just saying you want things set up to favor whatever you happen to like because that makes your life easier. If they were, that would leave someone else out in the cold who likes something different. What makes you special? Ego: I’m not special. I just claim that the “traditionally virtuous” life is better than the “inclusively tolerant” life. Look, you don’t judge whether a government is good or bad by ignoring its purposes. If a society favors the worse life over the better life it’s a bad society. If the favoritism is intentional and official, its government is evil. And if the government tries to make the worse way of life universal by universal interference—forcing all social institutions to organize themselves that way, training children that way in spite of parental objections, inventing special rules to defeat opposition—then it’s tyrannical. Alter: But “tyranny” doesn’t mean a government that supports things you don’t like, it means a government that does oppressive and lawless things and doesn’t let the people do anything about them. Ego: My personal feelings aren’t the issue. We’re trying to make a moral judgment—what is a tyranny—and that requires some other moral judgments. You can’t say what’s oppressive without saying what the normal things are that make up a human life. As someone once said (me, in fact):
A man who arbitrarily imprisons me or confiscates my property is a tyrant. Ruling elites that destroy the social institutions and relationships that make me what I am, that attack the family and abolish gender distinctions, ethnic ties, and traditional moral standards, that drive religion out of public life and tell private associations what members to choose and why, are also tyrannical.

Now maybe you think I’m just wrong about the things that make up a normally good life. We can argue that point. You can’t say it’s all just a matter of taste, though, because if you do you can’t talk about good or bad government at all. Because everything is to somebody’s taste. And as to lawlessness and suppression of popular resistance, there’s the judicial response to Proposition 2 in Colorado and Proposition 187 in California. The courts will always come up with whatever is needed to keep the program on track and be applauded for it. I call that situation lawless and tyrannical.

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Do the best things always

Do the best things always come first? Every movement seems to produce its classics at the beginning like Athena springing full-grown from the head of Zeus. (Sorry if that’s too high-flown!) That applies to modernity too. For us the seventeenth century is the century of genius, because it was when modernity achieved full development in the work of men like Newton, Descartes, Bacon and Hobbes. Pascal’s discussion of the spiritual consequences of the new situation has never been bettered. What have Nietzsche or the deconstructionists added to it? The Gentileschi exhibition displayed artistically the results of the sudden loss of a natural place for human impulses—the violence, the perverse sexuality, the Caravaggiesque interest in both the details of ordinary life and the shockingly dramatic, and the attempted flight into mysticism or, as in the picture of the lutenist, into technical intelligence.

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What's needed?

What kind of conservatism is needed today? Whatever it is will have to be different from that of the past. Conservatism as such is simply the desire to keep what’s good in an existing way of life. Conservatives today, however, have seen liberalism transform the world they once loved beyond recognition.

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What kind of conservatism is

What kind of conservatism is needed today? Whatever it is will have to be complicated, or at least different from that of the past. Conservatism as such is simply the desire to keep what’s good in an existing way of life. Conservatives today, however, have seen liberalism transform the world they once loved beyond recognition. What can there be to conserve in a world that makes inclusiveness the highest ideal, and enforces the requirements of inclusiveness—the abolition of all standards other than those of bureaucracy, market, and purely individual sentiment—ever more single-mindedly? Can Martin Luther King day ever truly be a conservative holiday?

Certainly we still have a great deal to be grateful for: prosperity, physical comfort, and (in a purely private sense) freedom. But those things hardly seem sufficient at a time in which Leftist indoctrination is compulsory in school, workplace and all public life. In America a man can read and say what he wants at home and among friends. However, if he says publicly anything seriously at odds with “inclusiveness”—that immigration or homosexuality is a problem, that racial differences do have consequences—he’ll discover how many ways there are of shutting someone up in a society as interdependent as our own. What he says will become much less public as opportunities for making his views known shut down. He’s likely to have career problems, if he holds any but the most technical of positions. And in Europe he may find himself in jail.

Further, how long will present freedoms last now that we’ve adopted a social ideal that requires thought control and abolishes the open public discussion and personal independence that hold rulers to account? Certainly our current ideals are not things we should conserve. Right-wingers sometimes worry that the future will bring a horrible Leftist utopia, like Brave New World only more perverse sexually. It’s more likely though that the future will be simply stupid and brutal. Utopia is impossible, and forbidding thought doesn’t make it less so. Social order requires particular loyalties, concrete ideals of conduct, and willingness to sacrifice one’s own interests. Abolish those things in the name of the universal right of self-realization, and the result may be very bad but it won’t be the horrifying perfection of a Leftist utopia.

So things seem bad, but not utterly impossible. There is always something to work with and for. What do we do though? Here are some approaches people have suggested:

  1. Mainstream conservatism takes the existing life of society as a standard, resolving conflicts when possible in favor of traditional ways. It’s not an approach that can work once the Left has won decisively, and standards that in principle reject tradition (like inclusiveness and self-realization) are treated as ultimate by all respectable authority. That’s where we are now.
  2. Libertarianism at its best (that is, most traditionalist) observes that tyranny requires government to enforce it. In the absence of government, people rely not only on the market but on traditional arrangements like family, ethnicity and religion to order life and provide security. Therefore, libertarians say, the best way to let human life develop in accordance with its own principles rather than those imposed by the Left is to do away with the state as much as possible. The problem, though, is that the ultimate standard for libertarians is freedom—which as an ultimate standard can only mean the untrammelled self-defining human will—and that standard is likely to determine the strategy, alliances, and practical effect of the movement.
  3. Withdrawal. Public life in the West is intolerable today. On the other hand people can do what they want in private. So instead of watching the Viagra ads on the evening news and sending your kids to be indoctrinated at school why not drop out and live as you choose? This approach has much to recommend it. It’s not equally possible for everyone, however, because of personal complications or because it requires the support of a community—most likely a religious one—and not everyone belongs to such a community or could join in good faith. A further difficulty is that withdrawal from public life can mean loss of influence, and that could be dangerous in a world in which giving children a traditional upbringing might at some point be declared a form of child abuse justifying state intervention.
  4. Restoration of the traditions of America and Christendom. That’s the obvious goal for conservatives if neither “what is” nor “as you wish” are taken as standards. The way forward to restoration is, however, unclear. At present it must exist largely as a movement of personal or at most marginal local reform, and as an intellectual movement that aims to clarify what a rebirth of Christendom and of America would be.

So what is the conclusion? As usual, a little eclecticism seems in order. If the principles that are publicly all-but-compulsory are radically wrong, alternative principles are needed, and Christendom and the traditional American regime can provide them. The alternative must be based on something actual, however, which requires disassociation from the existing way of life. Some degree of withdrawal is therefore necessary. That will require limitation of state power, so libertarianism is also needed. And it will require sensitivity to the seeds and remnants of a better way of life in what we have now, so mainstream conservatism, perhaps in a more self-aware form, has a necessary role as well. Each can contribute. Let a thousand flowers bloom!

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Apparently, Le Pen said on

Apparently, Le Pen said on one occasion:

Do you want me to say it is a revealed truth that everyone has to believe? That it’s a moral obligation? I say there are historians who are debating these questions. I am not saying that the gas chambers did not exist. I couldn’t see them myself. I haven’t studied the questions specially. But I believe that it is a minor point [point de detail] in the history of the Second World War.

On another he said:

I will say it again, the gas chambers were a detail in the history of the Second World War. If you take a thousand-page book written about the Second World War you will see that 50 million died, and if in the thousand pages, there are two pages which mention the gas chambers and the issue of the gas chambers is referred in only 10 to 15 lines on those two pages, that is what you might call a detail.

He was prosecuted for both statements under French law and fined a total of $250,000. The second statement was made in Munich, and upon the request of the German prosecutor the European Parliament stripped Le Pen of his immunity so he could be tried for a crime under German law that carries a 5 year prison term. (Check it out yourself on Google. The only people interested in putting the whole story together are the Holocaust deniers, the “civil libertarians” don’t care, but people won’t accept the deniers as authorities.)

Taken literally, these statements are not clearly false. Nor do they clearly insult the dead, speak favorably of the Holocaust, or do any of the other things the Europeans worry about. Even if you’re not a First Amendment fanatic, that ought to make a difference when criminal liability is in question. What the incidents show, in fact, is that it is the European governing classes as a whole—and not Le Pen—who are dangerous extremists who should be kept far away from political power.

Which is not to say that Le Pen should have said what he did. A man has a right to be annoyed when the Holocaust is used as a club to beat whoever doesn’t toe the PC line, and should be forgiven somewhat for he says when he’s annoyed. But there’s something devious in Le Pen’s statements, and the Holocaust shouldn’t be evaded. That way lies Holocaust denial, or worse, The New York Times, who until very recently routinely listed a man who actively facilitated Russia’s own Holocaust, Walter Duranty, without comment in its honor roll of Pulitzer Prize winners.

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The Left continues all-victorious because

The Left continues all-victorious because the serious issues were conceded long ago. “Inclusiveness” and “tolerance,” taken seriously, radically weaken all institutions other than universal markets and universal rational bureaucracies. Nonetheless, it is now fundamental that they are necessary basic standards for any tolerable society. Rejecting them has become unspeakable, and for most people unthinkable; all resistance anywhere must be abolished in the name of human rights.

The question we are left with is whether the victory has led to something that can be stable, or whether the Left still depends on the things it destroys. Are markets, bureaucracies and individual taste enough for a society? Can comprehensive social management really replace particular loyalties and attachments? The Left itself seems doubtful. Their hysteria over Le Pen, for example, and their inability to discuss the issues he raises, suggests that at bottom they realize things aren’t at all secure and have no idea what to do about it.

The fundamental question is whether technology, which works by concentrating on issues that can be isolated and manipulated, can manage all things comprehensively. In a nutshell, is strong AI—reduction of human things to specifiable rules that enable modelling and control—possible? If it is, the triumph of the Left will endure and man will be abolished. I don’t see any reason to believe such a thing though. The exact sciences depend on things that are far less exact, so precision can be only partial. It’s impossible in principle to manage the weather. How can it be possible to manage human society? And it it can’t, the project of the Left fails.

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Liberalism and Nazism

There’s a deep connection between PC liberalism and Nazism. A single movement of thought, the abolition of the transcendent, leads to them as its two ultimate possibilities. Nazism therefore clarifies to liberals their understanding of what the alternative to their view really is, within the world of thought they inhabit, by perfectly displaying that alternative.

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More on the mantra about

More on the mantra about the absence of any relation between homosexuality and pedophilia.

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All in the family

I’m not sure it was worth the effort putting Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi together for the joint exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. Maybe the thought was that neither is worth a major exhibit alone, but if you put them together Orazio provides artistry and Artemisia notoriety and then you’ve got something.

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Does it make sense to

Does it make sense to talk of PC liberalism as a grand conceptual system that’s inevitable because of something in modern thought? Isn’t it just the way things happen to have turned out? For example, some people view multiculturalism as Hitler’s bequest to us—if there had been no Nazis, they say, there would have been no revulsion against intolerance and politics today would have been very different.

I disagree. Stalin could have become the great devil figure. Why was it Hitler instead? Why is he so important for the complex of attitudes and understandings that functions as our public religious life? Why is denial of the being, attributes and significance of the Holocaust treated the way denial of the being, attributes and significance of God once was? In Europe, men go to jail for it!

Our image of Hitler and its significance for us is less the creation of Hitler than of the tendencies that gave us multiculturalism and would have given it to us if Hitler had never lived. If it hadn’t been the Nazis it would have been something else. Intolerance-as-ultimate-evil is a result of the liberal view that human desire is what makes things good. Since it is desire that makes things good, and all desires are equally desires, my desire and your desire and Andrew Sullivan’s desire are all equally good. Intolerance denies that, and makes the neutral management of society on the basis of the equal validity of desires impossible. Since that is the ultimate good for liberalism, intolerance is the ultimate sin.

Nazis or no, liberalism would have eventually become clear as to its own moral implications and insisted on them. Liberals don’t treat intolerance as the ultimate evil because what Hitler did was so horrible. Rather, they interpret Nazi intolerance as the supreme (negative) revelation of moral reality because of their fundamental attitude toward man and the world. Otherwise it would have been more natural to lump Nazis and Communists together and look for what they had in common as the key to the catastrophes of the last century. Which no one is interested in doing.

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