You are here

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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


More on the mantra about

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


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.


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.


Some conventional wisdom on the

Some conventional wisdom on the scandals in the Catholic Church: Church Itself Sowed Seeds of Scandal. It’s by a man named Oliver McTernan who ought to know what that wisdom is—after 30 years in active ministry promoting social justice he’s now an associate at the Harvard Center for International Affairs.

“The other [image of what the church should be] is the pilgrim people of God, each of equal standing as they gather around the eucharistic table.”

All modern politics is based on equality. Is his point that there aren’t any coverups in modern politics?

A democratic Catholic church would be something like the UN or EU, not democratic at all. It would be run by bureaucrats, “experts” and spin doctors, and you could never find who to was responsible for anything. In the present situation it’s clear who messed up and what the standards are—they can’t be subject to continual redefinition, because the hierarchy has to be able to appeal to them to justify their own (undemocratic) position.

“In the immediate aftermath of the council there was a creative tension as people were encouraged to explore the wonder and mystery of being part of the church that was not locked within the cultural and legal structures of previous centuries.”

Happy talk that covers up the real issues. The “wonder and mystery” was McTernan’s own excitement at being one of the people redefining the Church in line with their own concerns. It didn’t do anything for the man in the pew—a lot of them just stopped coming. And I’d rather have the Church locked within the cultural and legal structures of previous centuries than locked within the cultural and legal structures of America or the UN or whatever today. Then it would offer something that we don’t see on TV all the time anyway, although it wouldn’t give McTernan, his friends and their various projects as big a role.


Objections to homosexuality

Since homosexuality is a topic these days I thought I’d sketch some objections to it:

  1. The functional objection, from the necessity of sexual morality for a tolerable life in society. Acceptance of conduct grossly at odds with traditional sexual morality disrupts a system of habits, attitudes and ideals that gives male/female relationships the stability and reliability needed for family life. For more discussion, see my Sexual Morality FAQ, most of which is devoted to this issue.

Toward a Newer Right: the

Toward a Newer Right: the Right has always been a response to the Left, an attempt to maintain traditional affirmations in the face of leftist negations. As a result the Right, although essentially positive because it wanted to preserve something, has appeared negative because its main activity has been opposing leftist initiatives.

Today the Left has triumphed to the extent that all authoritative public institutions are leftist. All of them, for example, claim “diversity”—the abolition of all human distinctions not directly necessary for the functioning of bureaucracies and markets—as one of their fundamental commitments.

As a result, the Right can no longer be reactive but must offer a positive vision. At least in the public sphere it can not be conservative but must be radical and restorationist. The point of the radicalism and restoration, of course, will be to provide a more suitable habitat for the beliefs, attitudes and practices that continue to make social life possible. But from the standpoint of official theory it must appear an attack on the best achievements of our civilization.

The Newer Right will therefore be widely condemned. Nonetheless it will be a healthier and happier movement than the old, because its focus will be on positive ideals and hopes for the future, as well as memories of the past and resistance to present evils.


Sorry for continuing with the

Sorry for continuing with the topic of sexual abnormality, but it’s one the world is presenting to us just now. Also, it’s difficult to analyze adequately and so has some intellectual interest. Here’s a worthwhile article, “The paradox of the postmodern pedophile”—all other aspects of normality are being defined out of existence, so why not this one?


Hegelian-sounding aphorism of the day:

Hegelian-sounding aphorism of the day:

Leftism asserts the negation; liberalism negates the assertion.

Thus, the Left is communist and wants to destroy the heritage of the past. It asserts that the past must be negated. Liberals, on the other hand, are anti-anti-communist and simply deny that the heritage of the past should be asserted.


Strange: in the land that

Strange: in the land that gave us Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park, getting up on a soapbox, quoting the Bible and saying “stop homosexuality” is now a criminal offense.


What's the hope for the future?

The movement of modern life is still evidently toward the “left”: toward hedonism, rationalism, egalitarianism, technocracy, making man the measure, eradication of any sense of the transcendent, and all the other things we have come to know so well. Seems bad, if you happen to be an antimodernist and right-winger.

Still, overall formulations leave things out. Big words don’t tell you everything. That’s true of one’s own theories, but also of the way things are formulated in public discussion. You can’t trust what you read in the papers. Life includes everything, even the things that aren’t what we talk about.


More on Le Pen, for

More on Le Pen, for those who want to keep track of what’s doing among the Euroids: “How Le Pen can win”, from UPI. It goes into some of the complexities of French politics. Note that in contrast to the “extreme-right” Le Pen, the followers of the Trotskyite mole Jospin are “moderate Socialists.”


So what’s the hope for

So what’s the hope for the future? The movement of modern life is still evidently toward the “left”: toward hedonism, rationalism, egalitarianism, technocracy, making man the measure, eradication of any sense of the transcendent, and all the other things we have come to know so well. Seems bad, if you happen to be an antimodernist and right-winger.

Still, overall formulations leave things out. Big words don’t tell you everything. That’s true of one’s own theories, but also of the way things are formulated in public discussion. You can’t trust what you read in the papers. Life includes everything, even the things that aren’t what we talk about.

So what else is there? Some possibilities:

  1. Everyday life. People are still born and die, and must deal with whatever is part of of that. They can not in fact live or believe like the people on TV. That came out in the response to 9/11—people were much more religious and patriotic than advertised. And even people who don’t realize it may be “anonymous Christians” or something of the sort. The official formulation of their attitudes, beliefs and habits may be quite misleading; a more traditional formulation might be less so. Time may dissipate the confusion, and bring traditional formulations back into fashion.
  2. Still, TV and the rest of it have their effects. An international survey of religious beliefs shows the consequences of indoctrination in the controlled societies of Europe. The figures for the formerly communist countries, where indoctination was heaviest, are of particular interest. While the indoctrination was mostly effective, Poland is an anomaly. The apparent reason is that there was something unusual in the relation between society and regime there. After all, Poland is where the collapse of communism began. The similarity to Ireland and to some extent Italy, and to the comparatively libertarian United States, suggests that trust in God is an alternative to trust in the regime. For a government to put “In God We Trust” on its currency is truly an act of self-limitation. So one possibility is that with the failure of the state as God—the failure of the self-sufficient rational organization of human capacity and desire as the ultimate ethical reality—men will regain the sense that they depend on things that transcend them. The examples of Russia and East Germany suggest that may not happen immediately, however
  3. Darwin’s revenge: what works survives, what doesn’t disappears. It is Europe that has moved farthest to the Left, and Europe can’t come close to reproducing itself. After all, what does comfortable individual hedonism have to do with raising children? The Europeans expect their continent to become a comfortable retirement village dutifully supported by Muslim immigrants. How likely is that? A system of unreality can’t last, whatever prestige it may have for a while, and it’s no wonder they’re so easily frightened.

None of these grand possibilities tells us what to do now, apart from live well and try to be as clear and truthful about things as possible. The Left is doomed by its nature and will be replaced; what will replace it, when and how can’t be predicted. Still, there’s plenty to say and plenty to work for, and for that we should be grateful!


So here is the final

So here is the final communique on the Pope’s meeting with the American cardinals. “Attention was drawn to the fact that almost all the cases involved adolescents and therefore were not cases of true pedophilia.” Apart from procedures for dealing with particular bad priests, the main practical points are:

a) the Pastors of the Church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care;

b) a new and serious Apostolic Visitation of seminaries and other institutes of formation must be made without delay, with particular emphasis on the need for fidelity to the Church’s teaching, especially in the area of morality, and the need for a deeper study of the criteria of suitability of candidates to the priesthood.

So it looks like the reformation is more likely to be a conservative than a liberal one.


From The Spectator, a more

From The Spectator, a more favorable view of Le Pen. Proves nothing, of course, but it does restore a little the honor of the British press.



Subscribe to Turnabout RSS