Is there such a thing as “natural society”? The difference between the traditional and modernist outlook is that the former believes in it and the latter does not, at least if “nature” is taken to refer to anything substantial and not simply to content-free abstractions like freedom and equality. The traditional standpoint is that basic institutions like family, property, religion and ethnic affiliation are natural. Secondary features and particularities of line-drawing vary here and there, but the institutions themselves are tied to basic human realities that don’t change much and require social relations—if they are to function at all well—to settle into certain forms that follow a logic and order of their own. That natural logic and order are affected by circumstances to some extent, and they can be supported or disrupted, but for the most part they go their own way and we can’t make of them what we will.
Advanced modern thought of course rejects all that. Ethnicity is constructed, family is whatever we accept as family, religion has no content of its own, and property has a bad conscience even though it has turned out surprisingly hard to abolish or change as an institution. That outlook is held with extraordinary absolutist vehemence. To reject it, to think those basic social categories have to do with important realities that can’t be made into whatever people want, is not simply to hold a different view of things. It is to be racist, sexist, homophobic, fundamentalist, and a greedhead—the personification and agent of everything that is worst and most oppressive in humanity.
Vehemence and unwillingness to discuss are not always a sign of strength. It’s obvious that complex functional systems don’t vary all over the lot but much more often settle into specific patterns that can rarely be changed at pleasure into something very different that remains stable and functional. The catastrophic consequences of trying to do away with property and markets in favor of the guided or administered economy have become too obvious for even modern political discussion to obfuscate. The great stability of biological species—each one a specific organization of life—is notoriously an awkward point for Darwinian theory, which requires that at some point one species slide smoothly into another. Even dialects of American English turn out to have a surprising inner stability, and do not simply blend into each other as a result of better communications.
So what conceivable reason is there to think that one can reconfigure social relations relating to e.g. sex, which scientists say has been with us for a billion years, or ethnicity, which is so closely tied to common habits, attitudes, and historical connections needed for unforced cooperative life in common, into whatever form is needed to comply with absolutely formal and therefore eternally more demanding abstractions like freedom and equality? And if such a thing were possible, how could any limit whatever be set on power? Wouldn’t the result be a limitless totalitarian system and the abolition of humanity? Surely the current dogma, that such distinctions are meaningless and in any rate we should think so because the alternative is so horrifying, is the very reverse of the truth.