Thursday, September 10, 2009
What do ACLU-led attacks on public religious observance and the increasingly scant attention now given to Greek and Roman history by the K12 curriculum have in common? Together they symbolize the consequences of a powerful, ubiquitous, longstanding, relentless and largely successful assault on the values and traditions of the West. It is not confined to the Western Hemisphere or to Europe; it is virtually worldwide. We have come to expect it from the UN, controlled by Third World despots, but it is the West, itself, that leads this suicidal charge.
The pillars of Western civilization are the classical tradition and the Judeo-Christian heritage. Perhaps the true value of the Western canon lies in the fact that it best accommodates the strengths and weaknesses of human nature.
I argue that the best of the Western tradition was codified in the Anglo strain of the Enlightenment, and arguably achieved its zenith in the ideals, beliefs and actions of the American Founders.
I often make a distinction of convenience between the Anglo (Scottish, English and American) and French threads of the Enlightenment. It is over-simple, to be sure, but it is useful and generally avoids the margins of argument.
The French, following the ideas of Rousseau and the leadership of Robespierre and others, chose totally to embrace reason and to turn violently against religion and tradition. They set out with remarkable energy to change not only the present, but the past as well. The Anglos also embraced reason, but they opted to integrate it with traditions of the Western heritage. The Muslims, curiously, decided to abjure reason altogether and strengthen their faith as an alternative frankly hostile to reason. One might say that the French welcomed reason and rejected God and the Western tradition; the Anglos welcomed reason in the context of tradition and thanked God for it; and the Muslims rejected reason and turned to God as an antidote.
The French (and German) philosophes laid the foundations of post-modernist thought, which elevated pure reason beyond the realm of praxis (experience, observation) to the point of logical absurdity -- cultural, moral and intellectual relativism -- leading ultimately to nihilism. This school of thought is very much with us today, and its heritors -- people of the left (1) -- are determined to do all possible mischief to Western Civilization. Interestingly, they are in many ways allied with those who rejected reason -- Muslims.
The People of the Left - Part I
It is commonly observed that liberals are largely concentrated in media (entertainment and news), education, organized labor, minorities and "victim" identity groups, NGO's and government bureaucracies. This is largely true of the world-at-large, but it is certainly the case in Western Europe, North, Central and South America and Canada. It is noteworthy that these entities have much in common. With few exceptions, they are insulated from free-market competition; they are not existentially accountable for their performance -- the consequences of financial failure. Many have lost the traditional linkage between productive work and earnings. Apparently unaware of their debt to it, liberals tend to despise capitalism. One suspects the sentiment is a holdover from European aristocracy.
Insulation is perhaps a key concept. After generations of prosperity and security, unknown in most of the world, notions of existential threat have taken on an abstract (unreal) quality. In places where economies are weak and governance bad concern with survival is likely to be a constant among the people; they are daily threatened by the possibility of death by starvation, disease, violence and natural catastrophe. Life cannot be sustained without an intimate knowledge of quotidian reality.
Liberal separation from the consequences of thinking and behavior is the foundational point I want to make here: I'll have more to say about secondary characteristics -- assumptions and beliefs of the left and about the non-ideological, "accidental" spread of liberalism.
In societies that are relatively free of real poverty, infectious disease (medically amenable where it exists), and death by violence, and that have infrastructure to minimize the consequences of natural disaster, things are different. People can afford to maintain a (delusional) distance from reality. If one observes a rattlesnake, safely caged, or a human predator contained in a prison cell, he can indulge in attributing to them qualities altogether superior to their nature. Similarly, a person living in comfort and security may be dismissive of such "abstractions" as tyranny, jihadi terrorism or economic collapse.
Liberals ignore the lessons of history at their (and our) peril, but they are constitutionally unable to recognize or acknowledge peril. They tend, for example, to favor various kinds of collectivism -- from democratic socialism to Marxism -- over individualism while ignoring the devastation wrought under socialism in the last century -- crippled economies and death and imprisonment suffered by tens of millions and, generally, the tyranny that socialism always engenders. Collectivist social structures inevitably suppress the best qualities of human nature and encourage the worst.
The Founders, to their great credit, understood the reality of human nature and how best to account for it in the organization of government.
The People of the Left - Part II
Is the assault on Western Civilization deliberate, planned and maliciously intended? Yes and no.
Since the beginning of the 20th Century, there have been individuals and groups actively and frankly hostile the Western Tradition and dedicated to its destruction. Many were the intellectual descendants of the French philosophes, but others were motivated by ambitions to power, tribal mentality, anti-individualism, antagonistic cultural differences or politically organized religious beliefs.
What unites liberal ideologues is a vision of social perfectibility -- whether utopian or eschatological. These are people who measure reality against their imagined standards of Utopia or heaven.
At the other extreme are non-ideological persons influenced by liberal memes in popular culture and the orthodoxies of the educational establishment adopted since the 1950's. They are not consciously anti-Western primarily because the don't understand the concept. In a word they are ignorant -- of history, economics, politics and government. They act upon beliefs uninformed by knowledge or analysis. Excluding functional illiterates this group is theoretically salvageable.
Of all the intellectual bigotries and prejudices the abhorrence of liberty seems to top the list. Flowing from that position are the following corollary fears of and enmity towards: anything that is unorganized or regulated, and thus unpredictable; individualism; capitalism; free markets. In short they seek control over the lives, organization and behavior of others; control from which they, themselves, are exempt (2).
A set of sacred beliefs characterizes the left, and these are zealously guarded: social Darwinism, the idea that men are perfectible if properly governed; multiculturalism, which follows from the fear of making value judgments, in part leading to anti-patriotism and contempt for national sovereignty; the conviction that economies (not governments) are zero-sum; a natural affinity for national governments (particularly fascist and socialist) that use oppressive power to control their polities; wars are caused only by failures of negotiation; all men are inherently good, and when behavior indicates otherwise it is because of environmental factors; nature, in all its manifestations, is superior to mankind; all men and societies are literally equal and many more. All contrary beliefs are intolerable.
Finally, there is a set of behaviors most commonly associated with left. These include: intolerance of dissenting opinion (above) expressed in vicious attacks on opponents; intensity of feeling antithetical to a sense of humor; avoidance of honest debate (on the issue of Global Warming, for example); denial of reality not congenial to their prejudices and contempt for factual verification where it would challenge ideology (they simply rely on repetition of fallacious ideas to counter evidence); the use of intimidation, institutional coercion and violence in service of ideology; willingness to lie in furtherance of the "greater truth"; the use of third person plural in reference to grievance groups (they can't afford health insurance). Again, a sampling.
As I have said elsewhere, there is a remarkable similarity between the left and Islam. Opponents are allowed three options: conversion, submission or death. If this statement strikes the reader as excessive, consider the death tolls at the hands of socialist governments in the last century. I believe that in contemporary Europe and North America the left is restrained only by an incomplete consolidation of power.
Future Of the West
Or, in the language of game theory, does the future of the West cast a shadow? The answer to this question is impossible to forecast with confidence, but weight of evidence bodes ill for the survival of Western Civilization.
As Plato has his revenge on Aristotle, so Rousseau has his on Burke. Cultural, moral and intellectual relativism infects and cripples the governments and peoples of Europe, much of Latin America and Canada and is hard at work in the U.S. The model of infection -- pandemic -- seems appropriate, for spread of collectivist memes appears to have a viral quality and is abetted by intellectual elites and allied institutions such as the UN and the EU -- precursors to world government.
Some assert that the populations of Western countries (taken as groups of individuals) are far more conservative than their governments. This may be the case, but they lack the necessary institutional wealth, power and organization of ruling parties that exert their will through the instrument of government. And managed economies (which most increasingly are) effectively destroy the incentives and motivation for the expression of individual will.
The problems arising out the growth of the left, are greatly exacerbated in Europe by growing Islamic populations hostile to the values of their host countries, routinely living on the dole, and not held accountable by feckless governments that seek cover under the suicidal mantle of multiculturalism. These countries willing or fearfully yield sovereignty to malign immigrants who contribute negatively to their economies and, under direct threat of violence, ridicule existing law and insist on Sharia jurisprudence -- not only for themselves, but their countries of residence entire. The US, so far, has not been similarly affected, but it is only a matter of time.
So the outlook for the survival in strength of Western values seems generally poor. If Western Europe is to overcome the decline, Denmark is most likely to lead the way; on the global scale the US must lead. In neither case are the odds favorable.
Some readers of this essay will inevitably question the importance of Western survival. What's the big deal, they may ask. Political change and the realignment of cultures and values, after all, is the natural course of history.
So it is, I would reply. But consider that in all the past, no better organization of human society, governance, and economy ever existed than that informed by the classical tradition melded with the Judeo-Christian heritage that culminated, by way of the Anglo Enlightenment, in the thoughts, actions, systems and structures passed on to us by the American Founders.
Today's Western Civilization has created and deployed, via free-market capitalism and sound, moral, republican political systems grounded in the rule of law, more wealth and security
worldwide than would ever have been thought possible a century ago. The practical work of that civilization has never been surpassed outside the realm of hypothesis.
(1) The terms, "left" and "liberal" -- as I use them -- refer to persons who have adopted (consciously or otherwise) the ideology and thought of the continental philosophes.
(2) Think of neighborhood and condo associations. While many persons who offer service to these organizations act out of a sense of civic duty, others seem attracted by a fundamental need to organize and manage the behavior of others.
Implausible Denial. One of the chief characteristics I have attributed to the left is denial. They deny what's there and affirm what ain't. France defines the standard.
Crime in France is a growing and serious problem. Much of it is -- by empirical standards, i.e., facts -- associated with the growing number of hostile, unassimilated Muslims*. Especially Muslim youths. But multicultural relativism and its ideological partners, elitism and political correctness, forbids acknowledging, and thereby dealing with, the truth.
Faithful to the traditions of Rousseau, Robespierre and the admirable outcomes of the Revolution, France would seem to be the purest exemplar of denial, but the balance of Western Europe is hotly competitive. Sadly, so is America.
But in America we have not yet reached the endpoint of reductio ad absurdum reasoning; in France they have.
At Brussels Journal, Tiberge, a regular contributor, transcribes the absurd rationalizations of a televised panel of French intellectuals -- "experts", discussing whether crime was really anything to be alarmed about -- whether violent criminals bear responsibility for their actions. They take consolation in the fact that, after all, things in France are not as bad as in, say, Pakistan....
This is funny, but pathos plays the trump card.
A fine first-person article by Theodore Dalrymple about the brazenness of immigrant criminality and the PC passiveness of French government.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Pat Santy and others have written extensively about Obama-Left, Inc. being out of touch with reality and perpetually in denial. I agree with the analysis, but in the interest of simplicity, on the one hand, and praxis on the other, I have adopted a kind of bare-bones way of assessing liberal performance in the world. A way, that for me, answers the question, “so now what”?
I would argue that these people* are absolutely in touch with reality; but it is their reality. Where most of us perform to standards of quotidian efficacy -- i.e., paying the mortgage to keep the house, investing money for retirement, not meddling in other people's business, and so on -- liberals are busy making for themselves a place in Heaven (read Utopian 'justification'). What does it matter if their diplomatic strategy weakens and endangers the nation? If fiscal policy is profligate? If social policy enslaves us? Never mind -- their motives are pure. They have a vision. They belong to a tribe that sanctifies them.
We may call them elitists (which they are) or narcissists (which they are), but we need to know that the reality of our world is not the reality of theirs. We see their behavior as pathological and bizarre, but to them it makes perfect sense. They simply perform to different standards.
A useful conclusion: it is pointless to reason with liberals, for reasoning (in the traditional Western sense) runs counter to their primary goals -- defense of a secular religion and its belief system and the acquisition and maintenance of power. Power (collective power), they understand perfectly. It is their stock-in-trade. And it is opposing, naked power alone -- not persuasion -- that will cause them to change.
One knows one has scored points when hysterical cries of 'righteous' outrage are heard from the left. The potential loss of power threatens their very being. The argument for power is sustained by observing the effects (ranging from defensiveness to open hostility) of tea parties, town halls and the growth of conservative media and the Tenth Amendment initiative. Though the right, historically, has been uncomfortable with the collective exercise of political power and will, when liberty is at stake the time for that exercise has arrived.
It all comes down to this: it is one thing to understand the enemy (I use the word advisedly) but another to know how to defeat him. The left will use whatever power is at their disposal to subject or eliminate -- in one way or another -- those who hold a different world-view. To force non-believers into submission, forced alliance or extinction. Here, there are remarkable similarities to Islam.
One thinks of the dreary, demeaning, undifferentiated existence of persons living in the former Soviet Republics -- statism in one of its more benign forms. But is a short journey to recall crematoria, gulags and killing fields. Only a few years ago I would have dismissed that last sentence as pure hyperbole, but no longer. There is no want of historical precedent in the annals of collectivist governance.
When individual liberty is attacked by political powers that are not amenable to reason or persuasion, it must be defended by political power. Modest conservative organization (above) has so far been surprisingly effective, which suggests that the power of the left may be overrated. But the left, over the span of a century, has had enormous influence in government and society precisely because its power has been organized. Therein lies a lesson.
When I use the terms "liberal" and "Left" in most of my critical essays I am referring to to committed ideologues on the far end of the political spectrum -- those whose intellectual heritage derives from Rousseau and Marx. These are the True Believers and their enablers.
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