What are the grounds for hope?

Yet another reader finds fault with me for my superficial and, as he puts it, “mystical” optimism in the face of the actual forces of destruction that now rule our society. He writes:

You talk about liberalism self-imploding, that its self-contradictory principles are the grounds for its own self-destruction.

Empirically I don’t see this happening in any Western society. On the contrary, most Western societies are solidly ingrained in the liberal mindset. Where do you see empirical proof that liberalism is dying, i.e., in social trends, legal developments, academic circles? The fact that liberalism per se may be paradoxical does not lead to the conclusion that it is dying. Empirically there is no such evidence.

An ideology may have contradictory tenets and yet continue existing within the cracks of its own internally opposing forces. There is nothing in history or human nature that suggests an ideology will collapse because it may embody contradictory tendencies. The Roman empire existed for centuries amidst contradictions and paradoxes—its genius was in keeping them within a certain framework of opposing tensions.

Your hope that liberalism dies when its contradictions culminate in a spasm of self-destruction is similar to Marxism’s hope (according to Lenin) that the internal contradictions of capitalism would lead to a point at which the lower classes would be incited to rebel. Your concept is identical—internal contradictions of a society leading to an upheaval (mental or physical) and change. The dialectic is the same.

When you write,

“That life exists in lots of other people whom we don’t know about. There are forces that will oppose the destruction, forces that may increase and rise up, but that we don’t currently see because they are beneath the surface.”

This is the same model that Marx used—that “underneath” there is a spirit that will rise up when the contradictions of the controlling forces are exposed because they can no longer maintain themselves. This is a mystical approach to change—what is unseen rises up, what is beneath emerges. Several correspondents have asked you how this change could occur in concrete terms. Your reply was to resort to a mystical force that lies beneath invisibly. That is an unverifiable thesis unsupported by empirical data (social, legal, academic factors).

I too am a conservative but like the other two correspondents you quote (Pessimism), I too have been looking for concrete details that would signal a change in the Western mindset (i.e. elections, academic discourse, economic policies, immigration standards, etc). And I do not see a change coming because I don’t see any support for such in explicit terms. Conservatives have been marginalized to the extent that to participate visibly in the public square, they have to show liberal instincts. Liberals now set the agenda in all Western societies and the only thing that conservatives do is “respond” to it in order to “contain” it within “recognizable” bounds. But the hour of the Western conservative agenda has passed. Perhaps that is why you have to search for what is beneath and invisible because it is no longer visible and in control. When conservatism passes into the mystical realm (is that why your interest in The Lord of the Rings?) it signals the fact that it no longer has a historical and social impact.

Is there a solution to reverse this tide? There would have been had a good American told Michael Jackson to shut up, dress like a man, find a form of work more suitable to his (lack of) talents, worship God in all dignity, and respect our traditional values—or we’d lock him away. But no one did that. So now we have a world of Michael Jacksons opening the doors to a world of Muhammad Attas.

My reply:

These are all thoughtful points. However, I don’t think I made myself sufficiently clear. I do not mean that liberalism is at this moment visibly collapsing of its internal contradictions. I mean that those internal contradictions make it impossible for liberalism to defend our civilization against, say, Islam. It is Islam, not an internal dialectic, that is challenging the liberal Western order in France and elsewhere. Marx’s dialectic led to a determined, inevitable result. There is nothing of Marxian historical inevitability in what I am saying, beyond the insight that if a man is trying to kill you, and you do nothing to defend yourself, you are going to end up dead; but that is not a Hegelian dialectic, it is just common sense. Far from a deterministic dialectic, I see that we are in the midst of a tremendous mystery, the drama of the West’s vast suicide attempt, the outcome of which is unknown, and I try to describe it and imagine various ways in which events may develop. Maybe the West will turn around in the near future. Maybe it will turn around in the medium future, after much more destruction has occurred. Maybe it will turn around in the more distant future, after it has been largely destroyed and subjugated to Islam. Maybe it will never turn around. I do not know the answer. But like anyone else I look at the various forces that are active, both within and without, and try to see where things are headed.

When I speak of unseen healthy forces, I am not being mystical or escapist, but describing something that is true to life. There is always more, a lot more, going on than we realize. We tend to know only our own circle, plus the world as we see it through the media. There are many other circles out there, positive forces that are not seen because they’re not immediate to us and not in the media’s eye either. The main thing is not to assume that only those things that we immediately see constitute all that exists. Could anyone have imagined in the mid 1970s that Ronald Reagan would become president in five years and that in 15 years the Soviet empire would end? Did anyone know about the Polish workers’ movement and what that would lead to? Am I being mystical when I say that there is more going on in the world than we as limited human being can know about?

It should be evident to you that these considerations are not offered as an assurance that a solution to our crisis exists, but only as a counsel not to give way to despair.

There is a static quality in people’s thinking. They see, for example, this failure and collapse of the liberal order, the apparent lack in our society of any forces that will stand for self-defense, and they logically conclude, “It’s over.” It doesn’t occur to them that time will not cease to exist when that collapse occurs, that the very collapse will in turn release new forces into the world that they cannot currently conceive of.

Through the many blog entries of recent days, I’ve weaved back and forth between different aspects of this situation, and I’ve said contradictory things. That’s because very different and contradictory indications are before us. I don’t make predictions. I’m not being a Pollyanna. I have no idea when and in what manner the forces of recovery might appear. I’ve even said that recovery might not begin until after France as we know it has been destroyed, say, in a kind of “millet” system of divided sovereignty with the Muslims. That is not an “optimistic” scenario, which is what you’re accusing me of. That is a nightmare scenario. That is a scenario involving the death of Europe as we know it. But my point is that, given the deeply embedded nature of the liberalism, such a death may be the only way that the liberalism can be shucked off, and then Westerners of the future, having lost so much, may find it in themselves to stand for what is left of their civilization and fight back.

So, I guess my short answer to you is, as late as it now seems, it’s still too soon to expect liberal society to repent and turn around. The liberalism is too deeply embedded. There must be many more disasters, much more suffering and disillusionment, before a significant number of people in the West will see that liberalism itself has led to this disaster, and so be ready to give up liberalism and adopt non-liberal perspectives.

Once again, when I speak of hidden forces, I’m not being mystical but describing a reality. That reality is the life that is in me and other people of the West. That life is not simply going to vanish, it is going to express itself and assert itself, in some form. We can’t see how or when it will assert itself, but we know that it will assert itself. And that is why I feel hope and confidence, even as our civilization is revealing a total lack of will to survive or even any awareness or concern that its survival is threatened.

Another reader comments:

That was a very eloquent—and encouraging—defense of hope. If we lose all hope, the temptation will be to drift into a reactionary nihilism.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 10, 2005 02:15 PM | Send

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