The basically leftist character of modern conservatism
can see from Peggy Noonan’s recent putdown of any non-ideological sense of nationhood as no better than “mud,”
the conviction among mainstream conservatives that America is nothing but the incarnation of universalist ideas is not waning with time, as one might have hoped, but is growing ever more dogmatic and uncompromising. By embracing propositionalism so fervently, modern conservatism once again reveals its essentially liberal or leftist character.
As has been often pointed out, modern conservatism consists to a large extent in complaints about the consequences of leftist premises that the conservatives themselves embrace.
Thus they complain about political correctness, while refusing to see that PC is a logical consequence of the belief in non-discriminatory equality that the conservatives themselves support. Thus they complain about the anti-Western Muslims in our midst, while refusing to question the immigration policy that brought those Muslims here. Thus they criticize this or that excess in the feminization of the military, while declining to attack the very idea of having women in the military. Indeed, conservatives have gone along with every stage in this insanity, from the admission of women in the military academies in the 1970s, to the increasing of the numbers of women in the military under the Reagan administration in the 1980s, to the placing of women aboard navy ships and the resulting subsidization by the navy of the birth and care of the resulting out-of-wedlock babies, to the placing of women in quasi-combat units. Today, a conservative on the issue of women in the military is someone who, after having surrendered to all the stages in the feminization of the military up to this point, opposes the placing of women directly in combat positions.
That is the pattern of American conservatives. They accept all the leftist innovations up to the present moment, and only oppose the next initiative the left is trying to achieve. But as soon as that reform or cultural innovation takes place, the conservatives accept it as a given, dismiss as an “extremist” anyone who persists in attacking it (that is, anyone who actually has non-leftist principles), and retreat to the next fall-back position. Yes, they prefer lower to higher taxes; yes, they dislike affirmative action; yes, they prefer a stronger to a weaker national defense and a morally decent president to a treasonous rogue. But on most of the fundamental issues relating to the survival of our culture, conservatives accept the works—and the underlying principles—of the left.
I’m defining the left broadly, as any ideology or sentiment that issues, in one form or another, from the ideas of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, fraternity, and the Jacobinist idea of the all-inclusive state (national or global) ruling over a society of deracinated individuals, with all intermediary associations, loyalties and sources of social authority that lie between the individual and the state—such as local community, church, and distinct cultures, and ultimately (under globalism) entire nations and races—eliminated so as to bring about a single homogeneous world order.
This broadly Jacobinist pattern can take many forms, some totalitarian, some (initially) free, but all of them—because they all seek to impose a single egalitarian or other rationalistic idea on the world and thus destroy existing cultural distinctions—leading to the end of cultural, political, and individual freedom. The traditional Marxist left seeks to reduce the world to a single homogeneous order based on enforced economic equality. The multiculturalist left seeks a social order based on “diversity,” meaning a society in which there are many “equal” cultures and no dominant culture, and in which this same multicultural pattern is imposed on every institution. The economic conservatives seek a rationalized world order based on capitalist economic liberty, in which all particular nations and cultures will steadily disappear. The moralist neoconservatives (a group that is becoming less relevant as more and more of its members surrender to the dominant nihilist culture of “bourgeois bohemianism”) seek a world order based on family values, democratic capitalism and multiracialism, in which distinct cultures and peoples will have disappeared. (The moral neoconservatives imagine that society can maintain a moral consensus in the absence of any shared ethnocultural identity, history and loyalty, but simply on the basis of shared adherence to “ideas”—a Jacobinist formula if ever there was one.) Even leading Christian conservatives, ranging from Pope John Paul II to such evangelical groups as the Christian Coalition and Promise Keepers, have made moral crusades out of open borders and racial amalgamation.
So the various types of conservatives have ideologies that can be described in different ways as neo-Jacobinist. Today’s conservatives are the right wing of the same revolution of which the left is the left wing. The revolution needs both wings to fly.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 20, 2002 02:22 PM | Send
Where does that leave YOU?
To answer the question, we first need to step back and recognize that the existing forms of conservatism that I criticized, as well as others that I didn’t mention, all have some conservative elements. That is, each existing branch of conservatism is attached to one or another aspect of a valid social or natural order, of an inherited culture, or of transcendent truth that it seeks to preserve against leftist reconstructions. The problem is that each of these existing types of conservatism is conservative only in part. In other parts, it is aligned, consciously or not, with the left. Thus existing conservatism consists of a collection of fragments, with each fragment holding to some conservative truth but in other respects not; and with each fragment of conservatism in conflict with the other fragments. There is not now a genuine conservatism, a conservatism that stands for the totality of truth in all its dimensions against the incursions of the left. Such a conservatism must be created. That is the work of counterrevolution.
So you are searching for a Thoroughly Consistent Conservatism: i.e, ideological purity.
This would seem to turn Conservatism into some kind of a religion, thereby defeating many of its own worthy goals.
In short, man must act. And his actions, to be good and just, must sometimes be guided by non-ideological principles — principles that may not pass a conservaitve purity test.
From a theological perspective, what is “conservative” is not always good and true in every case. Take the conversion of Constantine, for instance.
A conservatism worthy of the name will therefore not define *itself* as any kind of First Principle.
It isn’t clear to me that just attempting to stay coherent is the same thing as what is normally meant by ideological purity, and in any case the real sin is not encapsulated in the epithet “ideological purity” without its connotive modality, willful adherence to error. Attempting to stay coherent is just basic honesty with onesself and others. To the extent that truth and its subsidiary requirements (e.g. coherence) are abandoned I think a position reduces to nonsense (though empirical evidence suggests that the fact of this reduction is not always obvious to everyone), and in any event if ideological purity means just staying truthful it is not the sort of thing I would want to repudiate.
As a matter of emphasis I took Mr. Auster’s post more as a lament of the liberal alliegences of conservative fragments than as a grand synthesis of a conservative monolith, although clearly both readings are possible. Some amount of intellectual humility should be possible without repudiating truth in principle, as do the intolerant forms of liberal tolerance.
I don’t see how a proposal to “stand for the totality of truth in all its dimensions” (including “aspect[s] of a valid social or natural order, of an inherited culture, or of transcendent truth”) “against the incursions of the left” constitutes a demand for ideological purity. I suppose it might constitute a rhetorical cover for such a demand, but that remains to be shown.
I don’t think the “totality of truth” can be found in a political movement. You need the church for that, simply because truth needs an ultimate reference. I just can’t see how Western Civilization can exist without Western Christianity.
I recognized that my phrase “the totality of truth in all its dimensions” might be provocative, but I hoped that it would be understood in the context I had already established. I certainly don’t possess such a vision of totality, nor can I envision a political/cultural movement that would demand conformity to one. Mr. Kalb’s and Matt’s comments get close to what I was attempting. The left or modernity or whatever you want to call it represents a systematic attack on the cultural, spiritual, and even biological order of existence. If that force of destruction is to be resisted, the order of existence that is being attacked needs to be articulated much more fully and comprehensively than any contemporary conservatism has so far done. Such articulation needs to include both the particularist and the universalist aspects of our culture. Also, in response to Mr. Carver’s comment, while Christianity is the center of our threatened (or rather destroyed) order, it is not the totality of it. Sources other than the Christian are also defining parts of Western culture and are also being attacked, and so also need to be articulated.
American Conservatism is based on the conservative branch of Whigism (British Enlightenment liberal political theory). As such American conservatism is always at risk into devolving towards America liberalism, which is derived from liberal Whigism. This is entirely distinct from the radicalism of the post French Revolutionary left, which was rooted in French centralized government and the ideals of Rousseau.
While our founding ideals are universal in nature, they came from a particular tradition. Though we genuinely hold that all people are equal as humans and that they have natural rights, our Revolution was never meant to be worldwide. Rather the debate of ideals taken to the battlefield existed solely in British America. The Declaration of Independence did not call for world-wide revolution. It called for British America, or most of it, to be independent from its mother country.
The early American left (the Jeffersonians) was universalist and was far more willing to promote a measure of equality of results. They applauded and supported both the French Revolution. However, this support only went so far and the Jeffersonians recoiled at the extent and arbitrariness of the Reign of Terror. Neocons are descendants of this tradition, even if most were socialists of some stripe first. Having assumed that modern conservatism=neo-conservatism, your argument that many modern conservatives sympathize with the ideals of the left is somewhat of a given. Just as the Jeffersonians sympathized with the Jacobins initially but recoiled at their radicalism, neocons sympathize with leftist ideals, but refuse to accept the idea that ends justify the means. Jacobinism Socialism and New Leftism are very different creatures than American liberalism. These are fundamentally illiberal radicalisms. The Jacobins were the first totalitarians. Modern tyranny, terrorism, and the idea of using the state to create a new man were all introduced by the Jacobins. No conservative I know of supports any of this, even if they would prefer an evolution towards this new man.
The idea that America is a Propositional Nation is a fundamentally liberal, not leftist idea. The proposition is the Whig ideal of the 1770’s and was set forth in the Declaration of Independence. American Conservatives accepted these ideals but saw them as part of a culture and political tradition. Early American liberals sought to remake American society along the lines of these ideals, hence their initial support for the Jacobins. As liberals have no room for pre-existing tradition and culture, they don’t care about the chaos unleashed upon the culture by immigration, so long as the immigrants accept the propositions of America. That this is not happening does bother many neocons. However, most are too attached to the dynamic revolution they see as defining America to even do a rational cost benefit analysis based on their professed ideals. If a tradition and culture does matter to neocons, it is that crated by the “Melting Pot” ideal of the 1930’s not the America of 1776.
It is a debate that could easily have been argued by Burke and Paine (were Burke not an British MP) and was done so in the epistolary exchanges of Presidents Adams and Jefferson and the election of 1796.
When speaking of “non discriminatory equality”, your mixing of equality under the law and equality of results is unfortunate. Equality under the law does not naturally devolve into equality of results. Moreover individual rights and group rights are quite distinct. All American conservatives understand this. Neocons are distinct in that they call for equality of opportunity, a 1950’s liberal position. They will oppose racial preferences, while supporting policies that give preference to the disadvantaged. This has the desired effect for neocons of supporting “diversity” without the quotas and balkanization they see in affirmative action programs.
To a large degree the 1964 Civil Rights Act is a real dividing line between traditional conservatives and Neocons. Both oppose racism, however traditional conservatives recoil at the government micromanaging of the economy this bill called for. Neocons look only at the goal of racial equality and not the resulting control the government has over private industry and the culture. They will decry activist bureaucracies and judges imposing quantifiable goals for desegregation without understanding that it is a natural result for a government bureaucracy.
You seem to believe that the lefts support for multi-culturalism is a result of liberal indifference to tradition and desire for quality. This is not the case. The New Left may speak of equality of traditions and cultures, but its goal is to unleash nihilism against the American culture and create a new culture. Gramsci and the Frankfurt School very clearly set this forth. The New Left has no respect for traditional Hispanic cultures. Rather it has created Chicano activism. Likewise the New left despises the tradition Black culture in America turning to black radicalism from the beginning. The goal is still scientific socialism not cultural egalitarianism. Even Marx, in his “On the Jewish Question” made clear that the goal for peoples is a destruction of the core culture. Look at the patronizing tone of leftist social studies textbooks towards non-western cultures. Were the left to win, the results would not be equal vibrant competing cultures, but something akin to the French, Chinese, and Moroccan themed zones in Disneyworld.
Due to the assault by the left on Christianity, it is hard for us to see that Christian groups, especially the Catholic Church, are inherently universalist. Christianity is a universal religion. To quote the New Testament, “We are all one in Christ”. Race, heritage, and language are of no relevance, only religion matters. I suppose as a member of the particularist faith from, which Christianity sprang, it is far easier for me to se this than for Christians.
Christendom (the West) and Christianity are not now and never were one. The West was always an Amalgamation of Roman, Christian, German and local traditions. Until the Reformation, the cultural West and the RCC were united. However, the Reformation and the expansion of Catholicism into the New World, Asia, and Africa ended this.
Evangelic Protestants are even less tied to tradition and are aggressively universalist.
These two groups only are at war with Islam because it too is a universalist tradition. The Ummah contains Africans, Europeans, and Asians. The goal for Muslims is a world-wide Caliphate. The New Left are supporters of an alternate religion and ideology, Communism. They have redefined universalism and are using this aspect of Christianity against it.
American conservatives are being pushed to the left because the left controls the culture and thus keeps re-centering the American polity to the left. This is the leftist dialectic at play with a new ant-thesis and thus synthesis always pushed a step to the left with ever iteration. This also means that the right becomes diluted with every iteration, as centrists are redefined as conservatives. This cycle cannot be broken unless conservatives start pushing things to the right. However, they cannot due so politically because the culture has been hijacked by the left.
We are stuck in the mode of reactionaries against radicals for three reasons:
1. We refuse to be counter-revolutionaries
2. Conservatism is inherently anti-revolutionary.
3. We keep accommodating new generations of neocons who were once on the left.
To use your example of women in the military, no conservative can call for ending women in the military, even if he believes it is ideologically beneficial. The reason is that it would be political suicide. Being former liberal and supporters of equality of opportunity, Neocons have no real ideological opposition to women serving in the military, in any capacity. Rather their only argument is the fitness of women for combat and other physical tasks.
To fight the left, we need to restore a semblance of ideological consistency, if only to agree upon a goal. Furthermore we must retake part of the culture by breaking the left’s virtual monopoly on news and education, if not also entertainment, so that we can define what is acceptable to society and political discource. Finally, we must be willing to fight a counterrevolution. Otherwise, we will be fighting ideological holding actions.
Actually, much of Mr. Auster’s comments (and those of subsequent posters) ring true to me. But the danger is that he presents “being conservative only in part” as a problem. Although he is right about women in the military and the unprincipled behavior of neo-cons, this question is not ultimately one of conservatism vs. liberalism: it is about true vs. false ideas about God and man.
In a society where military women were a longstanding tradition, the right thing to do would be “liberal” — eliminate, decimate, destroy the evil custom no matter how “traditional”.
Any conservatism that claims to possess “the totality of truth in all its dimensions” is suicidal, just like liberalism is suicidal, because it is self-justifying and makes no room for trancendance. I realize that Mr. Auster does not exactly hold to this brand of “conservatism”, but his language is dangerously close to it.
Mr. Culbreath’s comment brings up an important issue, the role of final goods—God, religious truth or whatever—in politics.
It seems to me that all human activities ultimately relate to such things, and in the case of something as basic and comprehensive as politics the relation always becomes explicit. One consequence is that an agnostic politics in the end becomes an explicitly antireligious politics. We’ve seen that happen in America. So I do think it’s necessary to understand one’s political activity as a defense of truth in all its dimensions, at least insofar as truth has been subjected to political attack. It even seems to me that some such understanding is involved in subjecting one’s activity to the authority of truth.
The standard liberal objection that if someone claims to be defending truth in all its dimensions he must claim fully to possess truth is I think misplaced. Truth in all its dimensions can be the goal and standard of our actions without any claim that we fully possess it. Otherwise, how could religion be possible at all?
I agree with Mr. Kalb on the primacy of religion or truth in politics. As the Indians say “There is no greater right in society than that of truth.”
I think that grounding in religious truth also provides the only real possibility for a people’s unity, and prevents politics from descending into the bizarre insanity that the various “isms” from facism to anarchism have in the modern world.
I am rather puzzled however by Mr. Auster’s criticism of certian religious groups in the U.S. for their “racial amalgamation”. If people follow the same faith and have (in the larger perspective) almost no difference in culture, why would they be divided in the first place based on their race?
Thanks to Mr. Kalb for his clarifying remarks. Indeed, one should act in the defense of “truth in all its dimensions” — but that vastness of that truth is not found exclusively, or even primarily, in a political philosophy.
Conservatism, as I understand and embrace it, is deferential to First Principles greater than itself. This is in sharp contrast to Liberalism which subordinates everything to itself.
I can defend my family in all their dimensions, with words or the sword. I can do so without fully comprehending them, let alone posessing them, in all their dimensions. It seems possible to defend truth in a similar manner, and in any event if it is not possible then we all might as well stay home and watch MTV with the rest of the nihilists. This sort of categorical rejection of the liberal assault on truth seems not only possible but necessary, which is why some (or at least I) find it necessary to repudiate the American founding myth (and Protestant political myths in general), among other things. Categorical rejection of falsity is not the same as claiming to posess truth comprehensively, although the latter is often used as a straw man in order to invalidate the former.
I agree with Matt’s last comment and am somewhat at a loss in understanding Mr. Culbreath’s point. His criticism of me is something like the familiar attitude of liberals, particularly young people, who reject the very use of the word “truth” because they see it as an assertion of the speaker’s own moral superiority. This misconception is itself a result of the loss of transcendence. Since there’s nothing higher than ourselves, if a person speaks about truth, that means he is saying that he himself is in possession of the truth or is identical with the truth. In reality, truth is above us, outside of ourselves. We know that our life depends on it. We seek to know it and follow it, but we do not possess it.
In regard to Mr. Dickson’s question about racial amalgamation, I was referring to the tendency of “conservative” Catholics and Protestants to push open borders and racial blending as a primary political and spiritual goal. Such people are not simply saying that there is no reason for individual men and women who share the same religion to avoid racial intermarriage; rather they are pushing for general social policies leading to the elimination of white Western countries and of the white race.
Thus the Pope, who has a strong sense of a distinct Polish cultural nationalism rooted in Poland’s history, has a very different view when it comes to this country. In his visits to America he has interfered in our politics, telling us we must have open borders, that we must be welcoming to illegal immigrants, and that immigration restriction is the moral equalivalent of abortion, both of them being part of the “Culture of Death.” Many Protestant evangelicals—considered the most politically conservative group in America—favor open borders. For example, when I proposed at Paul Weyrich’s meeting on cultural separation three years ago that a cultural separationist coalition might include (as one element among many others) people who were concerned about the cultural effects of mass Third-World immigration on this country, many of the participants were outraged and the meeting virtually broke down as these staunch conservatives said things like “Would Jesus restrict immigration?”
The basic problem is that many of today’s “conservative” Christians, including the Pope, see Christianity primarily in terms of the individual and of universal individual rights, abstracted from the sense of an embodied culture without which individuality is meaningless. Therefore their thought, like that of liberals, naturally moves in the direction of a single, borderless, blended humanity.
As to the matter of race, raised by L. Auster and R. Dickson, I must say that any political effort to keep up racial boundaries in the long run in the Americas seems to me to be doomed on its face. After all, what we have in the New World is a heterogeneous collection of societies displaying varying degrees of mixture of three major cultural and racial elements: European white, Indigenous red and African black. And all of these American societies are being propelled into the future by the simultaneous increase of European cultural dominance, and decrease of European racial dominance.
I take it that the diminishing relative importance of the European racial element in the mosaic of the Americas is abundantly obvious to all of us, even if we haven’t all actually read Pat Buchanan. It seems to me clear that there are no morally acceptable political means available to arrest the steady relative decline of the white racial element in the mix, not only in the US, but in the Americas as a whole. Even an impermeable wall on our southern border would not stop that, though it would slow the change in the relative proportions in the local, US mix while speeding it in countries to our south. Nor is it feasible to arrest the increasing biological mixing of the races, which may turn out after all to be an essential factor in reducing political friction among them.
Similarly, it is evident that there is simply no other possible future for the non-whites of the Americas but one of cultural assimilation at all of the important levels. This is obvious, I think, when we consider that there is no way out of age-long poverty for anybody in the world but through assimilation to and integration into the modern civilization of the West, at least at the technical, scientific and economic levels. In the Americas, this will be facilitated by the facts that the European element has long since destroyed the most obstructive feature of indigenous culture, the bloody and fantastic religions of meso-America, and converted most of the red men to one form or another of Christianity; and that the African racial element was almost immediately deprived of significant cultural continuity with the dark and relatively hopeless continent upon its arrival here.
But this future will certainly not come easy. Five hundred years of conquest, settlement and development have left millions of red men largely undisturbed in their archaic ways, and many millions more of mestizos only partially assimilated. The situation of blacks and mulattos is largely as bad. But our white ancestors made all the important choices long ago when they came to the New World, and brought so many millions of blacks as slaves. The only alternatives to assimilation (doubtless under some other name, less shocking to the hypocrisies of the Politically Correct) are made up of combinations of genocide, mass deportations exceeding even the crimes of Stalin, and apartheid, and none is morally acceptable.
So, what on earth has Conservatism to say to such a huge undertaking? How can we facilitate and accelerate this necessary process?
Tullius’s comment can be boiled down to two assertions: that the ongoing decline of the white proportion of the U.S. population is inevitable, and that the only solution is the assimilation of nonwhites into the white culture.
The first assertion, of the unstoppability of the decline in the white percentage of the population, only SEEMS to be true. To quote my 1990 booklet The Path to National Suicide: “It is as though the ‘browning of America,’ as Time has dubbed it, were a kind of vast natural phenomenon, as far outside of human control as continental drift. There seems to be almost no awareness of the fact that this alteration of our society is the result, not of an act of God, but of an act of Congress; not of some inviolable provision in the Constituion, but of a law passed in 1965.” In other words, an innovation that was brought about through politics can be stopped through politics.
Regarding Tullius’s second assertion, that the assimilation of nonwhites is the only solution, he himself admits that such assimilation has not occurred over hundreds of years and is a highly dubious proposition. So let us please not fall into the quasi-utopian mindset of saying that a certain result will be virtually impossible to achieve, BUT that we nevertheless MUST achieve it. (The Mideast “peace process” has been a recent example of where such half-realistic, half-utopian thinking leads.)
In my view, an indispensable condition for the preservation of the white culture is the preservation of the white majority that created that culture. Assimilation of a certain number of nonwhites into that culture is only possible on the basis of the continuing existence and vitality of the culture itself, which, once again, depends on the continued existence and vitality of the white majority.
In wending my way through Mr. Lewenberg’s immensely long post, I’m reminded of the adage that less can sometimes be more. However, I’ll try my best to address his chief points, which I can’t promise I’ll do to his satisfaction.
His point that I might have said liberal rather than leftist is well taken. (I admit that I am often stuck as to which term I should use in a given instance, since there is so much crossover between them.) Also he’s right that I basically meant neocons (or several varieties of same) when I spoke of “modern conservatives.” But that has to be qualified. For example, it’s also the mainstream, grassroots conservative movement, not just neocons, who have, e.g., gone along with the feminization of the military and with immigration.
I agree of course that the Jacobins were totalitarians and that no conservative supports that. However, I did not say or mean that modern conservatives or neoconservatives are literally Jacobins. I said (following Claes Ryn in The New Jacobinism) that they follow a broadly Jacobinist pattern that I called neo-Jacobinist, by which I meant that, because of their view of America as a set of principles rather than as a concrete entity, their politics moves in the direction of a uniform national or global state organized along ideological lines, in which all subsidiary political and cultural divisions will be gradually erased.
Mr. Lewenberg takes me to task me for ignoring the distinction between individual procedural equality under law and group substantive equality of results. However, in practice these these two seemingly distinct categories can sometimes get smudged. For example, at first glance our immigration policy seems like pure procedural equality in action, with individuals from all countries being treated procedurally alike. But in fact, by procedurally treating prospective immigrants from all countries alike, we are assuring a certain substantive, demographic, ethnocultural result. Mainstream conservatives of all types refuse to criticize that substantive result. So they end up being aligned to the left on this issue.
As for for the multicultural left’s sincerity, when I said (as part of a long list that necessarily lacked nuance) that the multiculturalists seek “a society in which there are many ‘equal’ cultures and no dominant culture,” I meant that that is their formal or theoretical goal, which they often contradict in practice. However, the fact that their rhetoric may be fraudulent doesn’t mean that multiculturalism itself is simply a fraud and nothing to worry about, as many conservatives complacently suppose. Whether multiculturalism results in the growth of a “genuine” Hispanic culture or of some anti-white, anti-American mix of minority cultures and white leftists, the new groups empowered by multiculturalism are threatening and will threaten the majority culture. Also, there are many “conservative,” anti-multicultural Hispanics who oppose any effort by white Americans to control immigration. Though “assimilated” and “conservative,” they end up lending support to the left’s agenda of increasing the numbers of unassimilated, leftist Hispanics in this country.
Finally, on Mr. Lewenberg’s point that it would be political suicide for any conservative politician to call for ending the policy of women in the military, I don’t agree; at least I don’t think the matter is so clearcut. Forgive me for once again drawing a parallel with immigration, but as Steve Sailor has persuasively argued, instead of losing net votes by calling for immigration reduction, a politician taking such a stand would win net votes. I suspect that the same would apply to the supposedly taboo idea of ending the feminization of the military.
The comment on procedural/substantive equality is summed up in the “postmodern” observation that any given actual set of procedures, or more generally any prescriptive master narrative at all, even if applied universally to everyone (equally), brings about substantive disparities. Therefore the selection of procedures (master narrative) is itself in direct opposition to any legitimate principle of equality, irrespective of some purported procedural/substantive distinction-without-a-difference. The rule-selection process is itself a violation of procedural equality, and the separation of rule-making from rule-application in order to make the latter appear procedurally equal is arbitrary, a cover-up of tyrannical subtext. (In the alternative formulation of the usual liberal equivocation, which ignores the Marxist/postmodern critique, “I own everything” is not a violation of *procedural* equality because it can certainly be applied universally to everyone without contradiction).
I think this is manifestly right. If you accept political equality at all you have accepted it in all its glory and terror. You are either with the leftist god or against him.
I think it’s a mistake to separate leftist from liberal.
I think it works better if you firstly distinguish radical forms of liberalism from gradualist forms, and then left forms of liberalism from right forms.
The Jacobins in this scheme would be radical left liberals. Radical because they wanted to achieve the substantive goals of liberals at once: they literally sought to start over from year 1. They were left liberal in their focus on social rather than economic individualism, and in their statism.
In terms of modern American society, the more radical feminists, animal rights campaigners and environmentalists would be the radical left liberals, the Democrats would be gradualist left liberals, the Republicans would be mostly gradualist right liberals and a section of libertarians would be radical right liberals.
In practice it is the left liberals who are often much “purer” in their attachment to substantive liberalism: it seems unusual therefore to exclude them from the ranks of liberals.
I like Mr. Richardson’s comment. I’ve often had the thought that the word conservative in the contemporary American setting (where most everyone is really a liberal of one kind or another) would make more sense if it were used as an adjective instead of as a noun. Thus we would have radical liberals (the left); moderate liberals (those now called liberals and centrists); and conservative liberals (most of those who are now called conservatives).
I know that the topic has shifted somewhat, but I am still not clear on why the race issue is even an issue.
I still cannot see how white Christian American culture would differ all that much from black Christian American culture.
So even if government policy is leading to the lessening of the white majority, who cares? So in the future their will be more Christian Americans who are darker - what does it matter?
If a true conservatism leads to a deference to the principles of truth, then a conservative should be concerned with the preservation of those principles, regardless of the race of those who agree to such principles.
So what I am saying here is what should be preserved is truth, and the race of those for or against truth is inconsequential.
White culture is not the one to be preserved, rather true culture is.
Mr. Dickson is correct that this is an entire subject by itself and needs to be addressed separately. But for the moment, a short answer to his question is that man is a multileveled being, and therefore human culture is also multileveled. Our race is a part of what we are, and therefore it is a part of what makes our culture. The culture of Southern Christian blacks or Catholic Latin Americans is not the same as the culture of traditionalist Anglo-Catholics; though the respective groups, as Christians, have Christianity in common, much else between them is different.
Mr. Kalb has summed up very well the interconnections between race, ethnicity, and culture:
“Without the common habits and understandings that constitute culture society would be a battleground of brutish asocial individuals. The seedbed for culture is the complex of pre-rational connections a people develops through long common history—in other words, ethnicity. While ethnicity and race are not the same, they cannot be altogether separated because both are consequences of a people’s long life in common. Since all actual cultures are tied to ethnicity, and therefore at least somewhat to race, to give culture free play is to permit race to have significance.
“Ethnic culture cannot survive without preference for one’s own people and their ways, or without settings in which a particular ethnic people sets the tone.” [James Kalb, “Anti-racism,” Pinc (Politically Incorrect), April 2000, www.cycad.com/cgi-bin/pinc/apr2000.]
Thanks to Marcus Tullius Cicero for his insightful commentary.
In his quasi-religious quest for another Great White Republic, Mr. Auster chooses not to address my criticisms. Suffice it to say that “white culture” has proven to be a meaningless idea. What we might call “white culture” today, in America, has very little resemblence to “white culture” five hundred years ago in Europe — or even sixty years ago in our own land. If we can say anyhing empirically about white culture, we can say that it is inherently unstable and tends unfailingly to liberalism.
That, of course, is not to disparage white people, but only to prove that race and culture are to a significant degree independent variables and should be understood as such.
Mr. Cicero is right in that there is no morally acceptable means to “save the white race” in the sense desired by Mr. Auster. California and New Mexico already have returned to majority non-white populations — and these same populations have adopted what he would call the “white culture” of the earlier majority.
The racial issue is a fatal distraction for traditionalists. A good case can be made for limiting immigration quite apart from white nationalism. Perhaps the unfriendly reception of Mr. Auster’s comments at the Weyrich-sponsored meeting has to do with a well-founded suspicion of his motives.
In an extraordinarily long and complex thread in which I have tried to answer every comment directed at me, I’m not sure which of Mr. Culbreath’s previous remarks he feels I’ve failed to address. As to his most recent post, he says that the fact that white culture has changed proves there no such thing as white culture. Since I’m not a student of logic, I don’t know the technical name for this fallacy, but I’m sure there is one. American culture changed greatly between 1775 and 1960. Does that mean there was no such thing as an American culture? Does the fact that American culture changed mean that if one wanted to assert the distinctiveness of American culture vis a vis French culture that one would be making a meaningless comment? Similarly, does the fact that white culture has changed mean that there is no difference between the type of societies that white European people will tend to create, and the type of societies that black people will tend to create, or the type of societies that South American Indians will tend to create? The obvious answer to all these questions is no. Yet Mr. Culbreath—in a loss of a grip on ethnocultural reality worthy of the most naive Christian or most enthusistic establishment conservative—asserts that the Hispanic populations of the Southwest have adopted the previous white culture.
Mr. Culbreath says that there is no morally acceptable way to keep or restore a white majority and that the racial issue is a fatal distraction. May I remind him that it’s precisely BECAUSE white America began systematically ignoring racial realities 40 years ago that we got into this fix. Had white America understood the importance of race in 1965, we never would have admitted these tens of millions of non-Europeans who have transformed the identity and culture of our country. If we as a society want to undo or limit the consequences of a catastrophic mistake we have made, we have to start by recognizing that it was, indeed, a mistake.
We have two choices: to continue to accept the current situation, in which America on the basis of an absolutist ideology of race blindness continues to let itself be transformed by the mass influx of non-European peoples and cultures; or to criticize and resist this ideology, and change our immigration laws accordingly.
I think the question of whether “white culture” can be separated from Protestantism, and further of whether Protestantism can be separated from liberal modernism, is an interesting one. They are certainly congenitally related. Perhaps they can be separated in the same sense that the Catholicism of Pope Pius X can be separated from the Catholicism of the renaissance popes. But in the most crucial questions of dogma and of communion with their most basic faith it may not be so easy to draw legitimate distinction.
By “white culture” Matt seems to have in mind the historically dominant complex of American cultures that for the most part stem from the British Isles. Maybe that’s what the term means in America. (I find the term confusing.) He believes that complex of cultures has some deep connection to protestantism and thence to liberalism. He no doubt considers that a serious flaw.
I wonder what follows from that though? No-one in the discussion claims that the cultural complex that has been historically dominant here has been flawless, only that it’s actually been the culture of the people who established the country, and for the most part of the people who built the country and its institutions and still live here today.
It seems that the basic question is what will make for the best life for people here going forward. One possibility is that America retains its historically dominant culture as such. If there are problems with the Anglo-American way of doing things—and there are—then they have to get addressed by the Anglo-Americans, mostly in accordance with their experience and understanding of things as it develops. Another possibility is that it gets replaced by some other culture, maybe because of massive immigration from some single source. Another is that the dominant culture and all others are destroyed by multiculturalism and replaced the therapeutic PC welfare state. Still another is that some new culture gets constructed by someone on some principle.
To my way of thinking the first possibility offers the best shot at what seems the best practical goal, which is not direct rule by the unmixed truth that is equally available to everyone everywhere but something much more limited, a reasonably free and reasonably self-governing society that is ordered ultimately toward at least generally Christian goods. That possibility depends on inculturation of the truth in the habits and attitudes of some actual people, so it seems inconsistent with the belief that humanity and religion demand the utter extirpation of any social distinction that has any racial aspect at all. (Mr. Auster has quoted something I wrote that goes into it a bit more, so I won’t repeat myself.)
I find the term confusing also, which was part of why it was in scare quotes, but I think the first paragraph of Mr. Kalb’s comment is generally fair and accurate.
Racial issues come up cyclically in conservative/orthodox discussion more because the left has made a categorical issue of them than because of their actual importance in the heirarchy of political truths, it seems to me. I’m no historian, but it seems to me that the elevation of race as such to explicit plenary importance is a modern phenomenon.
Only a lunatic thinks that race and culture are or should be utterly irrelevant when building the fences that make good neighbors. The fact that lunacy has become orthodoxy doesn’t make it not lunacy, and the effort to eradicate race and culture as such should surely be opposed unequivocally. As a practical matter purely “open borders” are cultural suicide, and reflect a cultural nihilism that permeates far more than just immigration policy. So much for the yin.
On the other hand, “white culture” as semantics of positive assertion implies that one of the most key and important things about Anglo culture is its whiteness as such. If that is the case it doesn’t seem to be much of an endorsement: it seems a rather banal little yang. Even a critic can see much more of value in Anglo culture than whiteness-as-defining-principle. The whole discussion may be a straw man: I expect that to the extent there is reasonable disagreement among political conservatives (as opposed to right-liberals) about the importance of race — in all the different voices of the word — it ought to be about degree rather than category.
Finally, Mr. Kalb’s relentless optimism is heartwarming — and I say that without the least sarcasm. But it is tough for a realistic Catholic to be optimistic about incrementally improving on a West that has defined itself by its rejection of authoritative tradition, and specifically authoritative Catholic tradition, for centuries. Those of us who live in exile would be fools not to recognize the fact.
Rory Dickson and Jeff Culbreath touch on a fundamental issue in their posts. Both appear to believe that the church is a self-sufficient embodiment of truth about the transcendent.
In this view, what is crucial is the survival of the church itself and the orthodoxy of its theology. What happens outside the church is important only insofar as a person would naturally want to see the truth of things, as represented in the church theology, prevail.
I can’t accept this view because I don’t believe that our relation to the transcendent is limited to the sphere of church and theology.
Many people, for instance, find a relation to the transcendent in the higher forms of love between men and women. This is hinted at when people admit to searching for a “soul mate”.
Similarly the long-term absence of such love can be felt to be “dispiriting”. Alice James, the sister of the novelist Henry James, described this sense of loss when admitting of her spinsterhood (in 1889) that it was “a cruel and unnatural fate for a woman to live alone, to have no one to care and ‘do for’ daily is not only a sorrow, but a sterilizing process.”
Similarly, it is a part of our higher nature, through which we find a relation to the transcendent, to identify as part of an ethnic tradition, a tradition based on race, culture, religion, ancestry, language and so on.
The absence of such ethnic identification is also likely to leave people dispirited. The libertarian Nathaniel Braden has written that “Living in the predominantly Anglo-Saxon city of Toronto, my parents were Russian Jewish immigrants … a sense of rootlessness and disorientation was present in our home from the beginning. I had no sense of belonging, in Toronto or anywhere else, nor was I even aware of what a sense of belonging would mean. To me the void was normal.”
What the view I have outlined means is that the church cannot simply hold to itself in order to uphold transcendence. Part of the central purpose of a priesthood must be to uphold the conditions for transcendence existing outside the church.
Is a failure to recognise this one reason for the quietism of the Christian churches? Do they believe that the fate of transcendence rests in the survival of their own theology and not what happens in society?
My impression of the Catholic Church is that it is most concerned to preserve orthodoxy at its own centre. It is considerably less concerned with the content of its own social institutions, such as its schools and universities, let alone what occurs in the wider society.
Thanks to Mark Richardson for his comment.
The tendency he describes seems to me a deviation that is especially characteristic of the post-Vatican II church. Christianity is the religion of the Incarnation, which means that truth must be realized within the concreteness and complexity of actual existence. The tendency since the Council has been to make it far more abstract than in the past—more so than I think is proper.
The Roman rite once had a concrete liturgy, for example, that incorporated the language and very words of antiquity as well as specific changes that had become accepted over the centuries. Today it’s been replaced by something created by a committee in accordance with theories and then translated and adapted and readapted in accordance with other theories.
It seems to me the effort has been a failure, because it’s at odds with the basic nature of Christianity. Christianity is neither Judaism nor Islam. Like Islam, it’s a universal religion, but like Judaism it accepts and in fact must accept particularity.
I find the contemporary Roman Catholic liturgy, such as is used at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, to be unspeakably bad in every respect, and I guess a “lack of concreteness” would be one useful way to get a handle on this badness. By contrast, the liturgy of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, used at St. Thomas Episcopal Church three blocks up from St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue, has abundant concreteness. See, for example, the prayer of humble access, on p. 82 of the 1928 Prayer Book, recited just before the receiving of Communion, beginning “We do not presume to come to this thy table …” It would appear that all these ancient prayers have been removed from the Roman liturgy.
The Rector of St. Thomas, Fr. Andrew Mead, always insists that Christianity is a religion based in particularity, that God came as a particular man to a particular people in a particular country. As Mr. Kalb suggests, it would seem that one of the characteristics of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church (stemming from its embrace of humanism, “global peace,” “solidarity,” the rights of the “human person,” perhaps?) has been a loss of the sense of particularity and concreteness which is also a gateway to transcendence.
Indeed, the post-Vatican II Church has a ‘lack of concreteness.’ The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of the Novus Ordo Mass (the post-Vatican II) is deficient and removed various parts. As well, it seems more of a joining of people, with the priest facing the nave and not the altar and with the words in vernacular and all said aloud, instead of the more reverent and transcendent Mass of Pope St. Pius V.
I’d just like to point out that with these last four comments—on the loss of particularity and concreteness in the Church—we seem to have come full circle back to the idea with which this thread began, my remarks about Peggy Noonan’s propositionalism, her denial of American particularity and indeed of the value of any national particularity, and how this was an example of the neo-Jacobinist trend in modern conservatism. The loss of the sense of particularity among American conservatives would seem to be part of the same general drift in Western culture as the loss of the sense of particularity in the Catholic Church (and in other churches as well).
Auster’s comment on the acceptance of Leftist positions by conservatives is of course true but he fails to realize that politics is the art of the possible. What conservatives tolerate is a lot different from what they would like. In a democracy, we have to accept compromises.
What happens to the ‘art of the possible’ when the only possible political positions are liberal? What happens when the only way to oppose a liberal position (e.g. ‘right to choose abortion’) is to try to paint it as illiberal (e.g ‘it violates the unborn infant’s equal right to life’)?
What happens is that everyone who participates in mainstream politics at all is a liberal, of course. It is a basic requirement for any participation at all. This seems to reinforce rather than undermine Mr. Auster’s basic premise. Liberalism has succeeded in making itself the only possible politics, so a conservative cannot oppose liberal politics on conservative terms. Most people, when faced with this reality, choose to swear their uneasy fealty to liberalism rather than face personal impotence.
Perhaps the implication of all this is that what we are really aiming for is not accommodation or compromise with the liberal order, nor a mere reworking of it, but its defeat, its overthrow, its eradication.
I don’t think the phenomenon I described as the “basically leftist character of modern conservatism” is the prudential compromise with practical reality that Mr. Ray suggests it is. Would that it were. Instead, it is an unconscious acceptance and internalization of liberal assumptions, making any serious opposition to liberalism impossible.
Forgive the presumption of a casual participant, but I hope the impressive talent on display in this conversation is directed in other venues towards educating our fellow citizens, especially Republicans, to the ill effects of liberal errors in the hearts and minds of conservatives. There are party committees at all levels where conservatives can attempt to propagate their views. Party politics is admittedly a tiresome business; still, the reigning confusion of tongues provides opportunities for those who really have something to say. It is worth doing. The parties are malleable; the Republican party can become a conservative party over time, just as the Democratic party, over time, has become a Left-revolutionary party. Conservatives must struggle, over time, to make this happen. Some participants here are doubtless active, but those who have shunned practical politics should reconsider. Rejecting the party system is itself a liberal error, since parties are part of the motley particularity of the real. As in Richard Wilbur’s great title, “Love calls us to the things of this world.”
Thanks to Mr. Carpenter for the suggestion. Yes, these points very much need to be made to regular Republicans and conservatives, not just to small discussion groups like this. Maybe it’s a question, not of waiting to be invited to speak somewhere, but, as Mr. Carpenter suggests, of going to various conferences and meetings and speaking up.
Or start a conservative debating society in your area. The John Adams Society in Minneapolis is in its eleventh year. If you help inchoate conservatives develop their convictions, they will help clarify the thinking of others—their children, for example. It is human nature to hunger for truth. People who can’t get it at their Leftist churches or from their Leftist friends have to go somewhere.
Except that a conservative debating society run by someone like me would probably be too radical to attract or hold the very kind of mainstream conservatives that you mentioned in your initial comment. That’s why I was intrigued by your idea of finding ways to bring the traditionalist message into more mainstream conservative or Republican venues.
However, the idea of a conservative debating society is a good one. In New York in the early to mid nineties, John Zmirak ran Catholic Renaissance, where we had some good speeches and debates on fundamental questions in an undistinguished upper room. (The group also adhered to the parliamentary style of address, as we mostly do here at VFR.) It would be worthwhile to start up something like that again.
A word of appreciation to Mr. Carpenter for practical suggestions in going beyond discussion to effecting a positive reversal of society’s downward trend. More of this is needed, and I trust will be forthcoming.
But engaging in these discussions is itself vital toward that end. We have to move forward with a clear view of what we stand for and where we want to take things. Speaking for myself, the high quality and challenging nature of these exchanges, (which very quickly put me in my place,) have already helped equip me in this struggle, though I have much further to go.
Nevertheless, we must gradually head in the direction of devising concrete ideas and plans to translate what we have discussed into action if any of it is to matter, or indeed, if these discussions are to continue at all.
Greg said in his post of April 4, 2004 06:15 PM, “You hate intellectuals.” To whom does the charge refer? Many have commented in the above thread; “you” could mean the author of the article, Mr. Auster, or any of the correspondents. An basic rule of grammar requires that the antecedent of a pronoun be clear and unmistakable. Furthermore, the Greg makes a charge (against whom I know not) without providing any supporting evidence or arguement.
The problem Joshua identifies is very bad at some web sites, where commenters often do not make clear whom they are replying to, and so it’s impossible to understand what they’re saying. Yet they don’t seem to notice or care, re-inforcing the impression of a “discussion” in which people are merely talking to themselves.
This is one of the reasons for using the third person in our threads at VFR rather than the second. It can often be unclear who is meant by “You.” See further discussion of this issue here:
you racist mofos need to get out of your caves!!! this is the 21 centry now and theres no room in this world for you racist rednecks and honkies!!!!!!!!!
Thanks for straightening us out, bro.