Thursday, January 18, 2018

Open borders & individual dignity

There is an article over at The American Conservative by Bradley Birzer which attempts to make a conservative case for open borders. Birzer doesn't hold back in the type of language he uses:
As a professor of the western canon, the Great Ideas of the West, and the western tradition, I find it nearly impossible to claim that there is a long tradition of excluding those who “aren’t us.” Even the most cursory examination of the issue reveals that the best of western thinkers have considered political borders a form of selfish insanity and a violation of the dignity of the human person. The free movement of peoples has not only been seen as a natural right throughout much of the western tradition, but it has also been seen as a sacred one.

Fighting words. Birzer claims that it is "selfish insanity and a violation of the dignity of the human person" to oppose the "free movement of peoples."

I'll get to the historical evidence in a moment. For the moment, I want to stay in the present, because it seems to me to be an unserious type of politics that claims that open borders will do anything for the dignity of Western individuals.

Look around. We see a rainbow coalition formed in opposition to white men. The politics of the rainbow coalition is based on the idea that white men exist to oppress others to uphold an unearned privilege. Therefore, the rainbow coalition holds that the culture and historic institutions created by white men are racist and need to be torn down. The future role of white men is not to advance opinions of their own, but to quietly validate the experience of others, even when this experience claims that white men are the source of evil in the world.

This rainbow coalition grows through open borders and it is not that far from seizing power permanently in the U.S. If it does seize power permanently then you can forget about upholding "the western canon, the Great Ideas of the West, and the western tradition" - these will be condemned as racist artifacts that must be deconstructed to create a safer space for the new majority in power. Nor will there be much "dignity of the human person" for white men in this new society created by open borders. Vilified as racist oppressors; expected to obsequiously follow the dictates of those now in power; not permitted to speak freely from their own point of view, faced with a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation in trying to win an accepted place in the new order, white men will most likely want to flee - but to where?

South Africa is another example of the loss of individual dignity that occurs when one group becomes a minority and then loses state power. There is now an employment system in South Africa that puts white men at the bottom, leading to the emergence of significant poverty among groups of white South Africans. Thousands of white farmers have been murdered, sometimes tortured in the process; one recent disturbing photo appears to show military equipment being used during a farm attack. There are South African politicians who have advocated "killing the Boer."

Is it really wise to wish to become a minority and to lose state power? Does this really extend your dignity as an individual? I don't think the serious answer is the "yes" that Birzer claims. If it were, I doubt if hundreds of thousands of white South Africans would have chosen emigration (exile) as a solution to their conditions of life.

One final point before delving into history. Birzer is wrong too about the relationship between the individual and his place within an ethnic collective. If you wish to support the individual (and his dignity), then you need also to uphold the existence of his "ethny" - which means establishing borders. Why?

An ethny is a group of people to whom the individual is closely related in terms of ancestry, culture, religion, language, history, manners and mores, and way of life. It is through membership of an ethny that the individual derives a deeper sense of identity; of belonging; of love of and attachment to a particular place (connectedness to land and landscape); deeper and more stable family commitments; a connection to both the past and the future (to the generations that went before and a sense of responsiblity to coming generations); and a determination to uphold the best of his own tradition, whether this be in terms of moral standards, of masculinity (or femininity), or of the arts and architecture. In short, an ethny is the vehicle by which an individual attempts to reproduce the best of himself and his tradition; by which he finds the deepest social commitments; and by which he finds himself connected across time and in place to something meaningful. A deracinated individual, in contrast, loses the larger setting in which he might most deeply complete himself. To be careless with borders does not, therefore, add to the dignity or flourishing of the individual.

Ancient Greece

I can't in a post like this reply at length to Birzer's claims about past attitudes to open borders. I can, though, show that things are not as straightforward as Birzer claims them to be.

Here is Birzer on Ancient Greece:
The Athenians, during the tumultuous fifth century before Christ, prided themselves on allowing not just the stranger into their communities, but also their very enemies in.

It is true that the Athenians are known to have been the most cosmopolitan of the Ancient Greeks. But Birzer is giving a one-sided account of things here. For instance, it was during the very century mentioned by Birzer that the famous Athenian leader Pericles changed the citizenship laws. Previously, an Athenian man could marry a wealthy foreign wife and their children would be considered citizens. Pericles toughened the law in 451 B.C. so that both parents had to be Athenians for the children to have citizenship rights.

There were considerable numbers of foreigners living in Athens, called "metics", but they were not citizens. They came from other Greek speaking areas, and so were not as foreign as those from further abroad, but nonetheless they were not granted citizenship rights:
Regardless of how many generations of the family had lived in the city, metics did not become citizens unless the city chose to bestow citizenship on them as a gift. This was rarely done...

Metics typically shared the burdens of citizenship without any of its privileges. Like citizens, they had to perform military service and, if wealthy enough, were subject to the special tax contributions and tax services...They were not permitted to own real estate in Attica, whether farm or house, unless granted a special exemption. Neither could they contract with the state to work the silver mines, since the wealth beneath the earth was felt to belong to the political community. Metics were subject to a tax called the metoikion, assessed at twelve drachmas per year for metic men and their households, and six for independent metic women. In addition to the metoikion, non-Athenians wishing to sell goods in the agora, including metics, seem to have been liable to another tax known as the xenika.

The other class of foreigners living in Ancient Athens were slaves. In the fifth century before Christ, when Birzer portrays the Athenians as standing proudly for open borders, the Athenians invaded a Greek Island called Melos. The residents were told that "might is right" and that they were to be conquered. There was a one-sided battle, the Athenians won and afterwards they slaughtered the male residents of the island and took the women and the children as slaves.

It doesn't seem wise, therefore, for Birzer to portray the Athenians of this period as upholding "the dignity of the individual" via open borders. Athens was an imperial power, ignoring borders and taking slaves, who would then make up part of the foreign population living in Athens.

And the rest of Ancient Greece? In some places, there were most certainly borders:
In other Greek cities, foreign residents were few, with the exception of cosmopolitan Corinth, of which however we do not know their legal status. In Sparta and Crete, as a general rule with few exceptions, foreigners were not allowed to stay.

Medieval Europe

Birzer also cites the Magna Carta as evidence of a tradition of the free movement of peoples in the West. It is certainly true that there is a section of the Magna Carta that aims to guarantee the right of merchants, except in times of war, to freely travel between countries.

I am no expert in the history of the Magna Carta, but one historian has warned against interpreting this section as being motivated by a philosophical support for open borders:
The 1914 editor McKechnie warns modern readers not to read back into the past, political and economic ideas which they might hold in the present. In this case, free trade ideas which were still quite strong in Edwardian England. What seems to have happened with many clauses in Magna Carta, was that grants of privilege to specific individuals and groups were later broadened into more general “privileges” or what became known as “rights” to later generations. Here is what he said concerning clause 40: “It has been not unusual to credit the framers of Magna Carta with a policy of quite a modern flavour; they are made free–traders and credited with a knowledge of economic principles far in advance of their contemporaries. This is a misconception: Englishmen in the thirteenth century had formulated no far–reaching theories of the rights of the consumer, or the policy of the open door. The home traders were not consenting parties to this chapter, and would have bitterly resented any attempt to place foreigners on an equal footing with the protected guilds of the English boroughs. The barons acted on their own initiative and from purely selfish motives. Rich nobles, lay and ecclesiastic, desired that nothing should prevent the foreign merchants from importing wines and rich apparel that England could not produce. John, indeed, as a consumer of continental luxuries, partially shared their views, but his selfish policy threatened to strangle foreign trade by increasing the burdens attached to it, until it ceased to be remunerative. The barons, therefore, in their own interests, not in those of foreign merchants, still less in those of native traders, demanded that the customs duties should remain at their old fixed rates. In adopting this attitude, they showed their selfish indifference to the equally selfish claims of English traders, who desired a monopoly for themselves. Every favour shown to foreign merchants was an injury done to the guilds of the chartered boroughs. This chapter thus shows a lack of gratitude on the barons’ part for the great service rendered by their allies, the citizens of London.”

It has to be remembered, too, that the movement of people was generally limited at this time in history, so that it did not threaten the existence of established communities as it might do today. For instance, in 1440 the English parliament decided to place a special tax on foreigners and so created a register of all those born outside of England. There were about 20,000 such foreigners, about one percent of the population. Most of them were from nearby areas, such as Scotland, Ireland, Flanders, France and Germany.

In these conditions, stringent border controls may not have seemed necessary. Even so, there was no commitment to an absolute free movement of peoples. For instance, in 1290 King Edward I expelled all Jews from England, an edict which remained in place for the rest of the Middle Ages. In a later era, Queen Elizabeth I (with less effect) ordered all "blackamoores" to be deported from England.


Finally, Birzer also argues that medieval Europeans saw themselves as belonging to Christendom, to a Christian republic, and that this dissolved a sense of the differences between people.

I don't doubt that the notion of Christendom was important to medieval Europeans. It's a long stretch, though, to argue that medieval Europeans only had an abstracted Christian identity, rather than combining their Christianity with their sense of belonging to particular communities.

For instance, the English early on adopted and venerated national saints, in particular, Edmund and Edward:
Throughout the years 1100-1400 these English royal saints continued to be an expression of both royal and national identity...Depictions of Edward and Edmund in paintings, illuminated manuscripts and other media were common. Their Englishness was no bar to their veneration by Norman and Angevin rulers whose horizons and ancestry were largely French. Henry III of England (1216-72), whose four grandparents had all been born in France, nevertheless had a deep devotion to St Edward the Confessor, rebuilding the abbey church of Westminster around his shrine, translating his bones to a grand new shrine and naming his eldest son Edward (and his second son Edmund). In this way these Anglo-Saxon personal names, which had been eclipsed after the Norman Conquest, re-entered the lexicon of high-status names.
England thus had revered and long-established native saints.

Similarly, the Christian knight was supposed to defend both the Church and his homeland. Peter of Blois, a twelfth century cleric, wrote a letter describing the knightly ideal as follows:
In former days, the knights pledged themselves by the bond of oath to stand up for public order, not to flee in battle, and to give their life for the common good. Even today the knights receive their swords from the altar in order to pledge that they are sons of the church, and that they have received the sword for the honour of the priests, the protection of the poor, the punishment of the evildoers, and the liberation of the homeland.

Defining America

I doubt that Birzer is really motivated by what happened in history. He seems to be stuck on the idea that America itself is defined by the idea of the free movement of peoples, so that if you give up on open borders you lose your national identity.

That's a very unfortunate way to define a national identity, because it means that you identify with a process of dissolution and disempowerment. It means too that you are identifying with an idea or proposition, rather than with a concrete, organic, particular community. You are inhabiting a belief rather than a distinctive community with a shared history, culture and way of life.

In other words, there are two problems with holding to "Americanism" as a belief system rather than "America" as a distinctive national community. First, the specific ideal of "Americanism" is a dissolving one that cannot hold over time. The emotional warmth comes from a belief in the moral good of open borders, but open borders are ultimately corrosive of stable forms of community life, so that it forces the individual back in on himself - it strips him down until the psychological benefit of attaching nation to idea no longer functions. Birzer is still a believer, it still works for him, but clearly for many Americans it does not.

Second, it deprives the individual of the benefits of participating in a nation that is envisaged as a real community, with natural forms of loyalty and shared identity, rather than as an idea or proposition or belief system. It seems to me that there is a lazy individualism at the heart of Americanism, one in which you don't really need to commit to real relationships with others, because your sense of nation exists mostly as an idea inside your own mind. Maybe that is part of its appeal, that you aren't really challenged to relate to others in a practical way as part of an enduring community, because your see the connection between people only as an idea that applies to everyone equally wherever they are.

Monday, January 15, 2018

More intellectual inroads

I saw this Tweet and thought it very good:

This is, in my opinion, a key insight. For decades, those who disliked the liberal trends within society voted for the right-wing "conservative" parties hoping that this would change things. It was a grave mistake, as the political philosophy of these parties is generally a right-liberal one. So the protest vote achieved very little - it just kept power safely within the realm of liberal politics.

Back in the 1990s it was common to hear the term "left-liberal" to describe those on the left, whilst those on the right were usually called conservatives (at least here in Australia). I began to call these so-called conservatives "right-liberals" to try to make clear how limited the political choice really was. The late Lawrence Auster was kind enough to credit me with introducing the term:
For years I have argued that neoconservatism is a variant of liberalism, specifically of right-liberalism, the belief in the equal rights and the fundamental sameness of all human individuals, based on a single universal truth embodied in a democratic world order led by America. This right-liberalism—a term first developed by Australian blogger Mark Richardson—is distinguished from left-liberalism, the belief in individual expressive and sexual freedom and substantive group equality embodied in a transnational world order led by the UN and other transnational bodies.

I think we are at the point now where the argument I was trying to make will become more widely accepted. Patrick Deneen, in his recently released book Why Liberalism Failed, makes the point forcefully and eloquently, though he uses the terms classical liberal and progressive liberal rather than right and left liberal.

The text quoted in the Tweet is from a review of Deneen's book written by Gene Callahan. He writes,
American conservatives may be cheered by the appearance of a book entitled “Why Liberalism Failed.” But, in the sense in which Deneen is using “liberalism,” most American conservatives are actually liberals. Deneen’s use is in fact the one common among political theorists, many of whom argue that America does not have a conservative and a liberal party. Rather, it has a right-liberal party, focused on free markets and free trade, and a left-liberal party, focused on social issues.

...The two liberal parties in America compete by pointing to two seemingly opposed but factually reinforcing trends. The right-liberal Republicans warn against the dominance of society by the state, while the left-liberal Democrats point to the tyranny of the market as the greatest threat to human freedom. Thus each party inspires its partisan members by fear of the threat the other party represents. But despite appearances, both parties, in fact, jointly work to expand both the state and the market.

The left is becoming a hostile place for Westerners; white men in particular have been flocking instead to the right. There is not much point, though, flocking to a right-wing politics that keeps the larger social settings in place that are dissolving Western society. To change these settings means breaking with liberalism itself. That's the change that is necessary to make a real difference and to begin to steer a different and more viable course for our society.

More science of sex differences

This will come as no surprise to readers of this site, but recent scientific research has again confirmed differences in the brain structure of males and females. What is particularly interesting about the recent findings is that the test subjects were newborn infants. So from the very start of life, before any effect of culture, boys and girls are different in the way their brains are wired.

From the abstract:
Using high-resolution structural MRI, we measured subcortical gray and white matter brain volumes in a cohort (N = 143) of 1-month infants and examined characteristics of these volumetric measures throughout this early period of neurodevelopment. We show that brain volumes undergo age-related changes during the first month of life, with the corresponding patterns of regional asymmetry and sexual dimorphism. Specifically, males have larger total brain volume and volumes differ by sex in regionally specific brain regions, after correcting for total brain volume. Consistent with findings from studies of later childhood and adolescence, subcortical regions appear more rightward asymmetric. Neither sex differences nor regional asymmetries changed with gestation-corrected age. Our results complement a growing body of work investigating the earliest neurobiological changes associated with development and suggest that asymmetry and sexual dimorphism are present at birth.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

On white knighting

There is a longstanding theme within Western culture of men who dream of rescuing the damsel in distress, perhaps with the reward of a relationship for their efforts. It all seems noble and idealistic, but it has come in for criticism within the men's movement, to the point that the term "white knighting" is now a derogatory one. As it should be.

The thing you notice is that white knighting always seems to exist as part of a pair. When men engage in white knighting, women engage in the feminine imperative. And both, especially when existing together, are a sickly version of what the genuine relationship should look like.

The feminine imperative is the idea that men should sacrifice for, and be servants to, women. Or, to put it another way, that men exist to serve a woman's goals and objects (and that a woman therefore has no reason to be grateful for what a man, or men, might do for her). Here is an example of the Christian version of the feminine imperative:

She believes that even as the "head" of a family men are only there to sacrifice and serve, whilst the woman leads.

There is some basis for white knighting and the feminine imperative in our biological drives. Men do, after all, have an instinct to protect women and it also makes sense that young women, as the bearers of children, might be thought especially critical to the future existence of a tribe.

Even so, the white knight/feminine imperative axis is dysfunctional. Women who succeed in turning men into a servant class are making them romantically and sexually unattractive. Women are generally more sexually attracted to dominant men they find difficult to tame or control. Which is why the white knight strategy also fails spectacularly for men - it is not likely to lead a man to the end part of the fantasy, where he wins the woman.

This is what makes white knighting so lame. It is a poor strategy for an individual man, or for the men of a community, to follow in attempting to win the favours of women. It ends up not with women casting admiring glances at their rescuers, but in women feeling ungrateful to men they cannot respect or have a genuine attraction to.

This does not mean that men should not follow through with their protector instincts. But this instinct needs have a higher aim, namely the protection of the larger setting within which relationships can successfully take place. The male protector instinct should be applied to upholding the virtue of women within the culture; to defending the culture of family life; to preserving the position of married men as having status and power and therefore attractiveness; and to creating a protected space within which the feminine qualities of women might be cultivated.

It's not reasonable to expect that a man can do this alone, as an individual. It will only happen if and when numbers of men act together to reset the culture.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

It was the sophists?

I am reading A Short History of Ethics by Alasdair MacIntyre. In chapter 3 MacIntyre explains how the Greek concept of the natural man came about. According to MacIntyre, the sophists were moral relativists. They believed that a man was virtuous if he functioned well as a successful citizen. To do this, he had to conform to the prevailing conventions of what was just and right. But these varied from one city state to another. Therefore, the important thing was to learn to adapt to whatever the prevailing usage was.

So, and this is the important part, what was moral was identified with the conventional. What this meant is that the natural man, hidden inside the conventional man, was identified with the non-moral or pre-moral.

The next part is worth quoting in full:
"The natural man has no moral standards of his own. He is therefore free from all constraints upon him by others. All men are by nature either wolves or sheep; they prey or are preyed upon.

The natural man, conceived thus by the sophist, has a long history in European ethics in front of him. The details of his psychology will vary from writer to writer, but he is almost always - though not always - going to be aggressive and lustful. Morality is then explicable as a necessary compromise between the desire of natural men to aggress upon others and the fear of natural men that others will aggress upon them with fatal consequences. Mutual self-interest leads men to combine in setting up constraining rules to forbid aggression and lust...

A good deal of variation is possible in the way that this intellectual fairy tale is told, but its central themes, like those of all good fairy tales, are remarkably constant. And above all, at the heart of the account there remains the idea that social life is perhaps chronologically and certainly logically secondary to a form of unconstrained nonsocial human life..."

The problem with the view of the natural man that seems to have originated with the sophists is that it reduces the nature of men to a few basic, destructive instincts; that it sees the natural man as an atomised agent seeking his own selfish purposes; and that it severs the connection between the natural man and the collective institutions of society, with these institutions only existing as part of a social contract to constrain the destructive aspects of natural man.

It possibly also led to equally unhelpful counter-positions, in which the natural man living outside of convention was thought to be noble and only corrupted by conventional society, or in which the social institutions were thought to be a contract for the purposes of a few against the many and therefore oppressive, rather than being necessary constraints upon the natural man.

What is missing is a more nuanced few of human nature, one which sees men as having a moral nature, albeit a flawed one, so that men have it within their nature both to embody noble qualities as well as to pursue an aggressive self-interest. Nor does the natural man exist prior to human society - he has always been part of it. Institutions like the family or the tribe were not somehow contracted for but reflect the social nature and the social needs of the natural man. The family does constrain aspects of human nature, but it fulfils others at the same time.

You cannot sum up the nature of man in a line. You could write a whole library of books describing the biological, the intellectual, the moral, the spiritual, the social, the emotional, and the psychological impulses that run through men. Out of all of this, an individual and a culture attempt to come to a sense of what is most excellent, profound, admirable and true within human nature, but in a way that integrates or harmonises the different aspects of who we are as men (you cannot, for instance, ignore the biological drives of men in attempting to come to an integrated ideal of manhood.)

In short, it is wrong to see the natural man as being pre-moral and pre-social, and morality as being wholly conventional. I'll be interested to see how MacIntyre describes the unfolding of this sophist view of natural man later in his book.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Patrick Deneen: Why liberalism failed

Here's a positive way to end 2017. Patrick Deneen, an Associate Professor of Politics at Notre Dame, has written a book called Why Liberalism Failed. I have ordered it and will review it once it arrives. But from the publicity it is clear that Deneen has a political philosophy that is similar in parts to that of James Kalb and myself, as I hope you'll recognise from the excerpts of an online interview below. It's heartening to see this happening within academia, where it will hopefully have some influence.
Patrick Deneen

The first thing that Deneen usefully recognises is that Western politics is dominated by two variants of the same liberal philosophy. He calls them classical and progressive:
Camosy: When you say that “liberalism has failed,” you don’t mean that liberalism-as opposed to conservatism-has failed. Can you say more about what you mean by liberalism?

Deneen: By “liberalism,” I mean the political philosophy and the resulting political institutions, practices and beliefs that dominate the governments and societies of much of the western world. Its founding fathers were philosophers like John Locke, and in the United States, the architects of our Constitutional order. But I also include in their number those considered to be “progressives,” such as John Stuart Mill, or in the United States, John Dewey.

Most of our political debates pit “classical” against “progressive” liberal visions, holding the two views as diametric opposites and thus circumscribing the whole of our political imagination.

He also believes that liberalism has gradually unfolded over time, but that its very success has led to its failure:
What I seek to describe is a gradual but accelerating “realization” of a set of philosophical beliefs that have transformed practices, making us more fully liberal over time, and as a result, giving rise to a slow realization that its success leads to its own set of systemic failures. My thesis is that liberalism has failed precisely at the moment that it has succeeded

Deneen recognises that liberalism is not just a neutral position but an ideology based on a view of man as being an atomised, autonomous individual:
Camosy: Why do you think so many liberals fail to understand that liberalism, rather than a neutral political and ideological space, is a particular ideology and worldview?

Deneen: Liberalism has shrouded its substantive commitments behind a veil of neutrality, although some of its classical and contemporary philosophers and defenders are forthright about those substantive commitments...

...liberalism advances by positing the belief that humans exist in a state of nature as autonomous, disconnected, wholly free and rights-bearing creatures.

But what is claimed to be merely a description of human nature over time becomes an aim and goal of liberal society itself, gradually but ineluctably shaping people in the image of what it merely claims to describe. Thus, we increasingly see a liberal people defined by absence of interpersonal commitments, whether marriage, family, children, or memberships in longstanding cultures or a religious community.

Further, where commitments are taken on, they are subject to perpetual revision - whether through divorce in the matter of marriage, abortion in regard to children, or church shopping or the rise of “Nones” in the case of religion. Such people are driven above all by demands of consumption and money-making, claiming the right to self-definition while abandoning any longstanding cultural practices of self-limitation, which become increasingly regarded as unjust and unjustified limitations upon one’s freedom and autonomy.

More ironically still, a massive growth of the state is required to make this experience of individualism possible, thus enthralling purportedly free subjects to a pervasive political order.

He believes that Roman Catholic culture in the West is no longer clearly an alternative to liberalism, but tends to divide along classical vs progressive liberal lines:
Camosy: How have Roman Catholics-and even Roman Catholic moral and political theology-accepted certain aspects of liberal ideology? What might this mean for the Church as liberalism fails?

Deneen: Tragically, at least in America but perhaps more pervasively in the West, Catholicism has come increasingly to be defined by and experienced as the two political iterations of liberalism, whether “classical” or “progressive.” Rather than offering a distinct alternative, many Catholics have come to understand their faith through the lens of these dominant expressions of liberal philosophy.

...Catholicism rejects both anthropological individualism and collectivist statism, but today we are divided into Catholic tribes who by default advance one or the other as a central political project.

Deneen holds that liberalism has destroyed genuine cultures, which then have to be replaced more formally by state organisation, which then means that politics becomes a matter of contesting for the levers of the state. He wants in the longer term to return to more traditional, non-statist ways of life:
I argue in my book that liberalism advances an “anti-culture”: whether through blandishments of the market or the power of the state, it seeks to weaken and eviscerate culture and replace it with a homogenous anti-culture of “free” people who consume pre-packaged, monetized “popular culture,” but no longer live in actual cultures of memory and tradition.

Inasmuch as we see deep instability and forms of systemic failure in our politics, this dysfunction occurs not in spite of an otherwise healthy culture, but to a great extent because of the destruction of culture and its replacement with an anti-culture. As cultural norms, practices and forms of belonging are eviscerated, informal codes must be replaced by legal systems and state enforcement of legalized directives.

From what I've read so far, it is possible that Deneen will not go beyond the concept of "cultural communities," but I'll have more to say on this once I've read his book.

Regardless of this, I am hopeful that the book will have a very positive effect in breaking down the liberal hegemony within academia. It's so timely as well - there is an audience out there now for intelligent and principled criticisms of the liberal ideology.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

There is no brake

A reader had an interesting response to my last post. I had warned that part of the dissident right was made up of disaffected right-liberals who might act to corral the movement within a liberal politics. The reader said of this group:
These are the people who will try to convince you that the only problem with liberalism is that there are people who have pushed it too far.

The reader went on to argue that liberalism will always gravitate to extremes:
There is no such thing as moderate liberalism, or moderate feminism. Once you accept a mild version of these ideologies you will end up with the extreme version. Every single time. The very nature of these ideologies is that they are Utopian. They just have to keep pushing until Utopia is achieved. Once set in motion they cannot be stopped.

I think this is right. The way liberalism tends to work is that one generation takes it so far and then thinks that it has gone far enough. But their children grow up with the new liberal ways and notice that there are things that still don't fit in with a liberal concept of justice. So they push society further along the liberal path until they think things have gone far enough...and so on.

Liberalism will keep traveling in a certain direction, along a certain path, without stopping, because there is no brake built into it. Even if you managed to take it back a decade or so, it would come back again in much the same way.

If you are a liberal, and you want to maximise individual autonomy, you do so by opposing all the things that place limits on what an individual can choose to become or to do. This includes whatever is predetermined that influences our choices, such as an assertion of a binding moral code, or the sex or race we are born to, or even the nationality we inherit. For as long as these things matter (i.e. influence us in some way) there is, for a liberal, a social injustice to overcome.

Furthermore, if autonomy is the source of our human dignity, then it has to be accorded to everyone equally, otherwise we deny the human dignity of others. So if it can be shown that any one group, on the basis of predetermined qualities, suffers a disparity in any life outcome, then that too is for liberals a social justice that has to be overcome.

Which makes the liberal program a radical one from the outset, even if it is implemented gradually over time. And there is no way to draw a line in the sand beyond which liberalism will not venture, because that, for liberals, would mean allowing a "social injustice" to continue.

This means not only that liberals are willing to commit to major transgressions (erasing traditional nations, deconstructing the family, making our sex a personal choice rather than a biological reality), they will also seek out minor transgressions as well (e.g. getting upset if a boy plays with a truck and a girl with a doll).

It is all made worse by the belief that many liberals have that they are "immanentising the eschaton." These liberals believe that there is an end point to humanity, an end of history, when liberal social justice will reign, and the purpose and meaning of humanity will finally be realised. There are liberals who construct a quasi-religious sense of meaning and purpose from this, so it is very difficult for them to abandon this vision of an arc of progress of humanity toward its ultimate fulfilment, by saying "we have taken these principles far enough, they are now doing harm." If they were to acknowledge such a thing, the sense of purpose they have hung onto would collapse. It's not possible for these liberals to acknowledge the possibility that liberalism, taken too far, might do harm, as liberalism is supposed to take humanity right to its very end point. There can be no "too far".

All of which means that there cannot be an escape from liberal excesses. The liberalism we have is the liberalism we were always going to get.

Which means that there is no avoiding the political task of going back and rethinking the first principles on which our societies operate. We can do better, much better, than the liberal assertion that "freedom as autonomy" is the sole, overriding good. There are many goods to be upheld within a human community, and the task is to order them so that they fit together as well as can be managed.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Not a true outsider?

If you want the West to continue into the future in any recognisable form, then you have to be a political outsider - at least for the time being.

That's because the political establishment is committed to a liberalism that is dissolving of traditional society. 

In the past, the establishment got away with things by giving people the option of a liberal left or a liberal right. You could have passionate disagreement within the sphere of this choice. And it worked - hardly anyone ever left the inside of liberal politics.

But with liberal dominance came ever more radical consequences. Over the past few years an outside finally started to emerge. 

This has been wonderful to observe. But for some time I have expressed the concern that the outside was made up of two parts. There is a rank and file that genuinely wants to break from the liberal establishment. But there are also leading figures who are still right liberal by conviction and who only came to the outside because the very dominance of liberalism has made it intolerant and has increasingly placed limits on speech. These free speech right liberals want academic freedom, wish to take on the campus left, don't want to be bound by political correctness, and take individual responsibility seriously.

But they are still liberals. And the danger is that they will seem like courageous outsiders, which then gives them the opportunity to corral those who are drifting outside, to keep them within a liberal politics. You then end up with a controlled opposition.

To make my point clear, look at the following Tweet from Jordan Peterson:

Jordan Peterson is an intelligent man with a commanding manner. His presentations are interesting and often insightful. He has taken on the campus left, who in turn have strenuously attacked him.

So he seems like an outsider. But as he admits his real role is to corral those drifting outside, to bring them back to the centre - to the inside. In doing so, he is helping the West to stay on its current course - which means that the breakdown will only get worse.

The political outside (the "dissident right") will take a step forward when the prominent leaders are those who understand the need to reject liberalism itself in a principled way. I am optimistic that this will happen, but in the meantime we have to take care to distinguish the faux outside from the real thing.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The good course

The current Pope is not a great respecter of nations. He has, for instance, just recently proclaimed that illegal immigrants must have the right to remain, without detention and with full access to social welfare - which is in practice a call for open borders and mass flows of migration.

But it was not always so. In 1920 Pope Benedict was alarmed by the conditions in Europe in the aftermath of the First World War. He issued a motu proprio titled "Bonum Sane" or "The good course".

He identified a series of problems, including class conflict and a breakdown in family life. He believed that the war had had a negative effect on the family:
the sanctity of conjugal faith and respect for the paternal authority have been many people not so vulnerable because of the war; and because the distance of one of the spouses has slowed down the bond of duty in the other, and because the absence of a watchful eye has given the opportunity to inconsiderateness, especially female, to live on their own talent and too freely. Therefore we must find with real sorrow that now the public customs are much more depraved and corrupt than before...

It's a poor translation, but the gist of it seems to be that the war, in separating husbands and wives and making women more independent, harmed the sense of duty of the spouses to each other, allowed them (especially the women) to live too freely (i.e. without concern for the good of the family), and undermined respect for paternal authority.

But it is what follows on from this that is of most interest. Pope Benedict XV, concerned about the socialist upheavals in parts of Europe at this time in history, issued this warning:
Therefore we must find with real sorrow that now the public customs are much more depraved and corrupt than before, and that therefore the so-called " social question " has been aggravated to such an extent as to generate the threat of irreparable ruins. The advent of a Universal Republic, which is longed for by all the worst elements of disorder, and confidently expected by them, is an idea which is now ripe for execution. From this republic, based on the principles of absolute equality of men and community of possessions, would be banished all national distinctions, nor in it would the authority of the father over his children, or of the public power over the citizens, or of God over human society, be any longer acknowledged. If these ideas are put into practice, there will inevitably follow a reign of unheard-of terror. Already, even now, a large portion of Europe is going through that doleful experience and We see that it is sought to extend that awful state of affairs to other regions.

Pope Benedict XV believed that it was the "worst elements of disorder" that were pushing for the abolition of "all national distinctions". He connects this drive to abolish national distinctions to a demand for an "absolute equality of men" which doesn't stop at internationalism but has wider repercussions, also undermining family, church and society.

What is striking is that the Church in 1920 did not side with the forces of dissolution but set itself resolutely against them.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tim Farron: the cure for liberal tyranny is liberalism?

Tim Farron was, until recently, the leader of the British Liberal Democrats. He is a serious Christian as well as a serious liberal. But he is starting to think that things are going wrong. Seriously wrong.

He gave a speech last month in which he acknowledged that liberalism has become an orthodoxy:
Liberalism has apparently won. Even members of the Conservative and Labour parties call themselves liberals today. Let’s be honest, you can’t work in the media without being a liberal. Even most of the journalists who write for the right wing press are in truth liberals.

Despite my best efforts, the Liberal Democrats have not won. But irrespective of my efforts, Liberalism has.

The problem for Tim Farron is that the dominance of liberalism has led it to impose itself on society to the point that it is becoming difficult to be a serious Christian:
My observation is that for many years now our culture has considered that the absence of faith is the neutral position, and that the holding of a religious faith is eccentric. In other words, an absence of faith is the standard assumption around which we build our social structures, and if you have a faith we will consider you to be eccentric in the whacky and harmless sense… so we will tolerate you, as long as you remain on the edges.

What appears now to be happening is that while the absence of faith is still thought to be the neutral position, holding a faith is only considered to be tolerably eccentric if it is merely cultural. But if your faith actually affects your world view in any way that puts it at odds with the mainstream, then your faith is considered to be malign and intolerable.

Tim Farron believes that modern liberalism is becoming a "respectable tyranny" and that,
my hypothesis today is that in this country and across the world, Liberalism will eat itself. Is eating itself. May already have eaten itself.

He notes too that liberal secularism leads to a narrow concept of human life, that it "reduces everyone down to either consumer or regulatory units...We’ve been atomised."

What is his solution? He argues that liberals should go back in time, to the liberalism of J.S. Mill, in which there would be a pluralistic society in which different world views would be tolerated. He also argues that Christianity in particular should be tolerated as liberalism rests on certain philosophical beliefs drawn from Christianity (i.e. that liberalism puts itself at risk if it discards Christianity).

I don't think he grasps the problem adequately in making these arguments. There is a logic to the core beliefs of liberalism which sets it at odds with Christianity.

The liberal starting point sounds OK for establishing pluralism. One of the core liberal beliefs, after all, is that individuals should be free to pursue their own goods as long as in doing so there is no interference with the right of others to do the same.

But to make this work it helps if liberals look on their preferences as being subjective or private. That way their preferences don't infringe on the validity of what others might choose. Let's say, for instance, that I choose as a man to marry a woman. If I am a liberal, it would be awkward if I asserted that this represents an objective good, i.e. a preference that is rightly ordered. If I were to do so it would suggest that marrying someone of the same sex is not a valid choice. I would be invalidating someone else's preferences and identity, a violation that would draw down on me the liberal moral reproach that I was being "bigoted" or "intolerant" or "prejudiced".

Similarly, it suits a liberal culture if there is thought to be nothing in the nature of reality itself to limit what I might choose to do or to be. That then means that these is less to limit my autonomous choice, which is a marker of human status and dignity for liberals. It is better from the liberal point of view if I am a blank slate so that I can be wholly the author of my own life. Better if there are 1000 sexes rather than just two. Better if race is just a social construct. Better if there is no natural law to constrain or to guide my moral choices.

Remember too that for liberals a progress toward a society where there is "equal freedom" to pursue our subjective goods is a matter of social justice, of equal dignity, of human flourishing, and of realising the ultimate ends of humanity. It is the source of hope, of liberation and of meaning. Many liberals will therefore think it offensive, or demoralising or deeply unjust if anyone violates liberal precepts. In particular, liberals will want to push forward with the liberal agenda, so that they can see "progress" being manifested in society. And "progress" will eventually catch up with those who are holding out.

So those initial core beliefs, which sound as if they might allow for pluralism, have an inner logic which drives toward an intolerance of whatever violates liberalism itself. The end result is that you can choose long as you choose liberalism.

And Christianity can't be made to fit easily into an acceptable liberal framework. After all, Christians do not see morality as merely a subjective preference. The Christian attitude is not that anything you choose is equally good, as long as it is not coerced. A Christian will assert instead that there is a moral order, external to the individual ("prior" to the individual) which provides the framework for our moral choices. We become free to the extent that we are not subject to moral evil.

Imagine if a Christian agreed to the liberal standard, and assented to the idea that moral choices are just subjective preferences, in which no matter what we choose we could just as morally have chosen something else. Surely that would be demoralising, in the sense that it would undermine Christianity as a serious belief about the nature of existence.

This does not mean that the only acceptable social framework for a Christian is a theocracy. Christianity existed for a long time with a distinct role allotted for church and state. But the concept of politics that would best fit with Christianity would be one in which a community recognised that men have a given biological, social and spiritual nature and that the aim is to best understand each of these and then attempt to integrate them into a way of life.

How to decide how to do this? Well, through the life of a community at different levels, including the political, over time. What would happen in practice is that a generation would inherit a particular tradition, i.e. an understanding of a way of life, and would then seek to influence it for the better, through a debate about philosophy and religion, through culture and education, through the care of parents for their children, and to some extent through reforms to governance and law.

Every community will make mistakes along the way. None will harmonise the different aspects of the nature of existence perfectly. It will always be a work in progress, with real improvement taking place over generations. The more a community gets it right, the more likely it is to establish solid foundations.

Liberalism doesn't allow the process to work well. How, for instance, can you try to encourage the better masculine qualities of men, and then integrate these into family and social life, if you start with the assumption that men are blank slates and that masculinity itself is a false and oppressive social construct? You never get out of the starting blocks, but are forced instead into low level debates about whether sex distinctions even exist and whether they should be tolerated if they do.

Tim Farron knows where things are heading. He can see that Christianity will be increasingly marginalised within liberal modernity. That it will be tolerated only if it becomes "cultural". He is wrong, though, to think that things can be put right by rewinding liberalism so that it becomes tolerant again. Liberalism will just spring back according to the logic of its first principles. If you repair it, it will set to work in a predictable way, just as it did before. It needs replacing.

Friday, December 08, 2017

The civic creed

There is a decent post up at AltRight on civic nationalism. A few excerpts:
On the surface, civic nationalism may seem right-wing. In reality, Civic Nationalism—the belief that a nation is not a people but a set of values—is hostile to the very essence of nationalism.

Civic Nationalism is not Nationalism, it is classical Liberalism...

Globalism is the radical left-wing of Liberalism while civic nationalism is the conservative “right-wing” of Liberalism. Both ideologies are grounded in the liberal myth of the tabula rasa, where mankind is no more than individual blank slates...

...Not only does civic nationalism deny the reality of race, it fails under its own premise. What are these “shared values” that unite us—Liberty, Equality, the Rule of Law? Does anyone believe this? Liberty and Equality are contradictory principles, often diametrically opposed. A nation defined by conflicting values is absurd.

The writer goes on to make an important point, namely, that the values that are coming to define the civic creed in America increasingly involve an anti-white animus. This is still contested, I think. There are still right-liberals who cling to the "we should be colour-blind and only see individuals." But over time a culture is taking hold in which embracing equality means accepting the idea of white privilege, diversity and open borders. Which means that if you are a white American, then the cost of seeing nationalism in civic terms is a high one. If you want to be "American" in terms of values, you will increasingly be expected to enthusiastically accept the role of "guilty transgressor of equality" whose only path to redemption is to respectfully listen to others who blame you for their ills, to meekly accept their demands and to positively accept your own displacement within the mainstream culture.

There is a video doing the rounds of an American mayor, distraught because one of her fellow councillors refuses to accept the white privilege mentality:

The article goes on to make some good points on another theme, namely the vast reach of the civic creed:
The great irony of liberalism is that it functions illiberally, unable to tolerate the ideological other. It is religious in nature, the proposition nation operates like a theocracy. The foundational values that form the basis of the civic nation become the “civic religion.”

In America, this civic religion has replaced Christianity.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Lauren Southern: how to be single

Just to mix things up a bit, here is Lauren Southern on the joys of being an empowered single woman:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

It goes back some way

Liberalism has dominated the English speaking countries for quite some time. I came across an interesting example of this from the Spectator magazine in 1935. This magazine has been mostly linked to the British Conservatives, but in the following excerpt the liberalism can be easily recognised.

The excerpt is from a reply to a speech by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling had argued in this speech "An Undefended Island" that something of the fighting spirit of the English had been lost due to the loss of a certain type of man in the Great War and that there was a risk that powers like Germany and Russia would rise in strength whilst the English remained complacent.

The Spectator writer argued in response that pacifism was in line with British values:
These questions may plausibly be put, but only if those who ask them are prepared to say what ideals, other than that of peace, but in accordance with traditional British virtues, are preferable...The more closely we examine the question the more we shall find that the qualities which we prize as being characteristically British cannot readily be manifested under the conditions of war...The prospect of war...leads to a demand in each country to be self-contained, and so to economic nationalism, trade restrictions, uneconomic production, and unemployment. It involves the exclusion of aliens and restriction on travel. These various consequences condemn each nation to a too self-dependent and therefore narrow existence, cut off from healthy intimacies with other people; and the general regimentation of life which follows when a strong central authority sets itself to prepare for war and organize economic supplies leads or tends to lead to dictatorship under which freedom and tolerance disappear.

The British people are in the main pacifist by temperament not only because they dread war itself, but because they value all the things which wars and threats of war destroy. The roots of modern pacifism lie far back in the history and character of the British people...In the past they have willingly granted asylum to aliens on British soil, partly because they believed that freedom of movement and trade were profitable, but partly also because their standards of conduct were based on a conception of the personal rights of every individual as an individual, and not merely as a Briton. Citizenship of the world is a notion which can be more easily entertained by the British than by other people. The conception of citizenship which can be widened out to include the native inhabitants of countries once subject and now becoming increasingly free makes us less insular than we once were, and certainly more ready to respect citizen rights in foreign countries.

This is the mindset of classical liberalism. Note how British values are defined in terms that could only in the long run undermine Britishness: citizenship of the world, citizenship widened out to those living in former colonies; granting citizenship to asylum seekers; freedom of movement; personal rights based on every individual as an individual and not merely as a Briton etc.

It clearly had an influence among Conservative Party types and you can understand from this why Britain changed so radically after WWII.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Accepting our monstrosity?

Below is a controversial tweet from the New York Times:

It is advertising an opinion piece by a Canadian writer, Stephen Marche. Most of the reactions to his piece have been along the lines of "this is liberal craziness." I actually believe it is worth reading, not because I agree with Marche, but because Marche is somewhat courageously highlighting a fault line within his own liberal belief system. It's worth trying to understand the point he is making.

Marche makes it clear that he has an extraordinarily negative view of male sexuality:
For most of history, we’ve taken for granted the implicit brutality of male sexuality... 

The masculine libido and its accompanying forces and pathologies drive so much of culture and politics and the economy, while remaining more or less unexamined, both in intellectual circles and in private life...

He goes on to add:
Women are calling for their pain to be recognized. Many men are quite willing to offer this recognition; it means they don’t have to talk about who they are, which means they don’t have to think about what they are.

So this is no surface issue. For Marche this is about something deeply troubling about who and what men are. He goes on to explain why he is so distressed about the nature of men:
Sex is an impediment to any idealism...What if there is no possible reconciliation between the bright clean ideals of gender equality and the mechanisms of human desire? 

So here is the crux of it. Marche is worried that sex does not fit in with liberal ideals of gender equality. And, of course, he is right to be worried, as the two are at odds. I'll deal with the contradiction a little further on. But here's something else that Marche gets right:
Meanwhile, sexual morality, so long resisted by liberals, has returned with a vengeance, albeit under progressive terms. The sensation of righteousness, which social media doles out in ever-diminishing dopamine hits, drives the discussion, but also limits it. Unable to find justice, or even to imagine it, we are returning to shame as our primary social form of sexual control.

This is interesting. Liberals have prided themselves on undermining the older restraints once placed on sexuality. But Marche himself feels ashamed of his own sexuality - and, in fact, if he wants to be a good liberal, then he should feel ashamed, because his own sexuality is inevitably at odds with liberal beliefs about sexual equality.

(I like, too, Marche's admission that liberals thrive on the "sensation of righteousness" doled out by social media, which gives a temporary dopamine hit.)

Marche finishes with this:
The crisis we are approaching is fundamental: How can healthy sexuality ever occur in conditions in which men and women are not equal? How are we supposed to create an equal world when male mechanisms of desire are inherently brutal? We cannot answer these questions unless we face them.

If you want to be a civilized man, you have to consider what you are. Pretending to be something else, some fiction you would prefer to be, cannot help. It is not morality but culture — accepting our monstrosity, reckoning with it — that can save us. If anything can.

He once again squarely faces the issue: male desire is inherently too brutal to fit in with liberal notions of sexual equality. He is not sure if anything can save us from this situation, but he thinks that morality won't do, only men "accepting our monstrosity, reckoning with it" is a tough enough response to the problem.

So what is this "monstrosity" that men have to reckon with? In the liberal ideal, there is no significant difference between men and women apart from the plumbing. Our sex, a predetermined quality, can be made not to matter. Men would simply see women as their "equals"in the sense of treating women the same that they would other men.

But sex is highly sexed. There are moments in sex when the connection to the opposite sex is felt profoundly and meaningfully. We respond to a woman in sex as the desired "other" - we become keenly aware of women as distinct from our own selves, to the point that we can feel that we are participating in a union, physical, emotional and spiritual, of two different expressions of life.

And it gets worse than this for liberals. There is an element in sex of men as the active and aggressive part and women as the responsive and receptive part. And there is an element in sex of men wanting to possess and to be potent.

And when it comes to desire and attraction, we think in terms of men who are commanding - of men who are muscular, self-confident, achieving, strong - with women being drawn to masculine power and status. Men, though, desire women for their softer feminine qualities and their beauty.

If you are a liberal wanting to make our biological sex not matter, how can this not be a problem? Stephen Marche is so upset by it all that he thinks of his own sexuality as monstrous and shameful. He is at war with himself for ruining the prospects of his own political idealism.

Marche could, of course, resolve his dilemma by reconsidering his political ideals in the light of the created nature of men and women. If it is not in the deepest nature of men and women to relate to each other under the terms demanded by liberalism, then perhaps it is liberalism which needs to be re-examined rather than declaring male nature to be monstrous.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Breaking the right way

Some encouraging news. The young women of the alt right are making up their minds on the national question and they are choosing to reject civic nationalism.

It began with a YouTube video by Lauren Rose which I have already posted on (here).

Then Faith Goldy posted the following tweet:

I find it interesting that civic nationalism has some emotional hold on her. I'm not sure why, as it seems emotionally empty to me. Instead of a deeper hold of shared ancestry, history and culture it is based instead on a shared allegiance to some wrongheaded liberal political principles - and in practice most Western nations don't even insist that new immigrants share these principles. Still, I have to accept that something about civic nationalism once appealed to her, but that she now recognises that there is no future in it, and that it leads to ethnocide.

The "coming out" of Lauren Rose and Faith Goldy emboldened the YouTuber "Blonde in the Belly of the Beast" to make the following thoughtful video explaining why she too has shifted away from civic nationalism:

Part of what motivated Blonde to make the video was her negative reaction to the following tweet by Jordan Peterson:

Peterson is good on many issues but this is straight out right-liberalism in which individualism is set against the evil of collectivism. I wish that Blonde had developed a point that she alluded to in her video, namely that this is a false opposition. If you support the individual, then you have to support healthy forms of collective life as well, because humans are in their natures social creatures who develop themselves most fully and readily through these forms of collective life.

The family is one obvious example. This is a collective, and not even a voluntary one. Nonetheless, it is how individuals experience maternal love and paternal guidance; it is how individuals are socialised through relationships with their siblings to have successful peer relationships; it is how individuals develop an appreciation for the efforts and achievements of past generations and part of how they form a commitment toward future generations; it is how men exercise masculine instincts to provide, to protect and to guide and how women exercise feminine maternal instincts; it is how individuals have the opportunity to experience enduring loving relationships that might endure into old age; it is how children experience the stability and "rootedness" that is part of creating an enduring resilience in later life....need I go on?

The right liberal opposition between the individual and the collective is a false one. Instead, the relationship between both has to be ordered the right way, so that individuals uphold the necessary forms of collective life, and make some sacrifices to do so, but without the dignity and significance of individual life being denied by the collective.

Does it not make sense, for instance, for an individual to make some sacrifices on behalf of family, if this is such an important institution in the life of the individual? The real point here is not to deny the importance of family as a collective, but to try to arrange things so that the individual sacrifice is worthwhile, i.e. to arrange things to that there is a viable and healthy culture of family life.

Blonde focuses on a different issue in her video. She notes that in practice it is only whites who are pressured to follow the idea of existing only as individuals, without a collective identity or a collective interest, whereas others are allowed to organise effectively as collectives. This leaves whites defenceless and unable to uphold any right to a future existence - or even to defend themselves against the aggressive politics that is increasingly being directed against them.