Tolerance über alles and the death of British civilization

(This blog entry goes beyond the initial consideration of Dalrymple’s article on anarcho-tyranny in Britain to a more general discussion of liberalism and Nietzsche’s possible, and contested, role in it.)

Just as Britain seems to be far beyond us in the tolerance and embrace of Muslims and other cultural aliens (though we are pretty far gone ourselves in that department), Britain is also far beyond us in anarcho-tyranny. Coined by Samuel Francis, anarcho-tyranny is the systematic refusal to enforce the law in the most serious and essential matters, such as the protection of citizens from physical violence, combined with the assiduous enforcement of intrusive regulations in the most trivial and specious matters, such as the policing of people’s thoughts and feelings about minorities. An extremely disturbing article by Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal re-tells shocking, gratuitous crimes of violence performed by British “youth” that have permanently ruined the lives of the respective victims and blighted those of their families, and yet were punished by a few months in jail. At the same time, violations of political correctness, such as a harmless “homophobic” joke made to a police officer, are treated with the utmost dispatch and severity.

Unfortunately, the article is very lengthy in the recounting of newspaper stories that Dalrymple has read (the piece is 3,500 words long), and very short on any real analysis. (I can’t help but wonder how much Dalrymple is paid by the prestigious and well-endowed City Journal for a 3,500 word article that consists mainly in the elegant regurgitation of several newspaper articles.) The closest Dalrymple gets to general conclusions is in this passage:

[T]he zeitgeist of the country is now one of sentimental moralizing combined with the utmost cynicism, where the government’s pretended concern for the public welfare coexists with the most elementary dereliction of duty. There is an absence of any kind of idealism that is a necessary precondition of probity, so that bad faith prevails almost everywhere.

This is grimly vivid for the most part, and one phrase, “an absence of any kind of idealism that is a necessary precondition of probity,” is especially effective, but it is still description rather than explication. As is so often the case with Dalrymple’s writings, he relentlessly recounts horrific social ills in such a way as to plunge the reader into an abyss of cultural despair, rather than attempting to identify the principle of the social phenomena he’s describing, their moral and spiritual source. Such an examination might lead both author and reader to an understanding of the error that got society into this mess (and clear insight into a problem, even a terrible problem, is energizing rather than depressing), which in turn would suggest, at least in theory, a way out of the mess, namely the repudiation and reversal of the error. But no. The main thing for Dalrymple, a medical doctor who has abandoned his native England to live in France, is not diagnosis and cure, but indulgence in thoughts so black and searing that the closest equivalent I can think of is that ultimate literary nightmare, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.”

In this connection I’m also reminded of a great line from L. Brent Bozell’s Mustard Seeds:

The wages of sin is death, and the wages of long-standing indifference to the informing genius of a culture is—not just the death of the culture, but the pain and fright that attend death.

It seems to me that Dalrymple’s writings are focused on the anguish and horror that attend civilizational death, not on the informing genius of our culture and our loss of same, the understanding of which offers the only possible path to saving ourselves.

- end of initial entry -

Mark D. writes:

May I suggest that, grounded in liberal anthropology, anarcho-tyranny is perfectly consistent, and in fact required. Therefore, the facts as reported by Mr. Dalrymple make perfect sense.

Liberal anthropology is derived from Nietzsche: it affirms the sovereignty of the individual will, that the individual human will is the highest and best value, and asserts that the individual will is the arbiter of all value. Within society, all individual human wills are considered of equal value, validity, and worth, and there is no principle by which to discern among them. Society is then a contest of a will to power, of asserting one’s preferences over those of others.

On the “anarcho” side this translates into affirmation of the individual human will over such traditional values as private property, public order, and even human life. If a crime of violence is committed, a conviction may be sustained, but a long incarceration is viewed with suspicion, as the imposition of a collective will over and above the highest good—the individual will that committed the crime. It is not legitimate within a liberal community to assert the communal will over against an individual human will (unless, of course, that individual human will contests the Uber principle of liberalism itself).

On the “tyranny” side, it is obvious that the preferences of individual human wills are sacrosanct, such as sexual orientation, lifestyle, dissent, and so forth. Any speech, thought, or action that threatens a protected preference is therefore punished with the utmost severity as a direct threat to the ultimate good—the individual human will (which is above critique). And because the individual human will is the source of all goodness, it cannot be relativized by any “status,” particularly status within a religious or ethnic minority. Those wills in the majority therefore must be restrained, and those wills in the minority must be protected, so that a principle of absolute equality is maintained. In fact, within a liberal society, the fiction is maintained that there is no majority at all, and if a majority is invoked this claim is condemned, marginalized, or ignored. Liberal communities have no legitimate majorities. Liberal communities are merely a collection of individual human wills.

LA replies:

This sounds to me more like a liberal adaptation of Nietzsche to postmodern individualism, than Nietzsche himself, since Nietzsche emphasized the absence of truth and the struggle of will to power in terms of autonomous cultures more than in terms of individuals. While the postmodern liberal Nietzscheanism that Mark D. describes may be derived from Nietzsche’s ideas, it is also different in key respects. I don’t think Nietzsche ever imagined a social order that enforced an equality of the value of all wills. That is pure liberalism, not Nietzscheanism. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s even useful to discuss liberalism in terms of Nietzsche.

Mark D. writes:

I just have one postscript.

In liberal society, human life is NOT sacrosanct; the human will is sacrosanct.

Abortion policy is the perfect expression of this principle.

LA reply:

Very interesting. Human life is something “outside” the self, a “transcendent,” as it were. Since only the immanent self and its desires have value, without reference to anything outside the self, life does not have value.

This relates to what I said yesterday about Desperate Housewives. All they experience is the willing self, not the goodness of life and the truth of existence, which are beyond the self.

LA continues:

Also, Mark D. said: “Liberal communities have no legitimate majorities. Liberal communities are merely a collection of individual human wills.” He points out to me in an e-mail that this means that “in liberal societies, two principles we take for granted no longer apply: (1) consent of the governed, and (2) rule by majority.”

This is profoundly troubling, and obviously true. It’s just a further application of our understanding that since liberalism says that only the individual and his desires matter, liberalism denies the legitimacy of the nation and its majority culture. But now we see that liberalism also denies the legitimacy of political majorities as well as of cultural majorities. Or, as Mark continues: “A majority party can rule so long as it affirms there is no majority. This is Blair’s England.”

And thus we arrive at the modern bureaucratic state, the ideal of which is the EU, and the current leading examples of which are Britain and France. Since only the individual and his will matter, and all individual wills are of equal value, no majority of individual wills can be allowed to force its will on any minority of individual wills. Therefore the society cannot be ruled on the basis of the consent of the majority, also known as the consent of the governed. The society must be run by a non-elected instrumentality that is independent of the governed, in order to protect the equality of all individual wills.

Jeff writes from England:

Read Dalrymple’s excellent article. It seems your commenting readers, insightful as they often are, love to throw Nietzsche’s name in whenever they want to sound profound (Dylan fans do the same). I don’t think he was very relevant to the article, if at all. I had to laugh. Why can’t they throw in some other name instead of Nietzsche all the time? How about Schopenhauer? Not as cool sounding! As for your comments, they’d be hard to disagree with. I would say that there is still not total anarchy here either morally or legally or crime wise. There are severe problems as Dalrymple points out. It is much worse than it used to be and certainly a broad multi-cultural moral free-for-all godless anarchy threatens. But we must keep perspective. The UK is still paradise compared to France where Dalrymple has gone to live. Did he not know about all the trouble France has experienced this year sending it into real anarchy at times. Oddly enough, the influx of Muslims (which I oppose) has played a strong role in combating certain aspects of that threatening anarcho-tyranny or whatever you want to call it.

LA replies:

I also felt the introduction of Nietzsche into the discussion was a little off, though not completely. You could say modern liberalism leads to a Nietzsche-like condition. What is the essence of modern liberalism? The denial of the transcendent and of objective moral truth, leading to the managed equality of all wills. What is the essence of Nietzsche? The denial of the transcendent and of objective moral truth, leading to the elevation of the will-to-power as the source of value, which at the highest level, that of the superman, takes the form of saying yes, in joy, to the eternal recurrence of a universe without God and objective moral truth. So while Nietzsche and liberalism share the denial of the transcendent and the resulting focus on the human will as a substitute, I agree with you in that I don’t see what Nietzsche adds to this discussion.

Mark D. answers the criticism of his use of Nietzsche in this discussion and goes farther. He explains how Nietzsche in his attack on reason signaled the transition from classical liberalism, grounded in reason and the equal participation of men in the realms of reason and politics, to modern liberalism, based on the denial of reason and the concomitant assertion of the equal value of all wills. Thus freedom and equality as expounded by modern liberalism are nihilistic concepts.

He writes:

One more point on Nietzsche, that many readers either miss or overlook.

Because of his “God is dead” statement, many associate Nietzsche will the loss of the transcendent.

But, he is more significant than that. Nietzsche represents the final death of reason in the Western philosophical tradition.

Thus, in Nietzsche’s opinion, morality cannot be grounded in either transcendence or reason.

Nietzsche is therefore cited as signaling the end of the Enlightenment, which was grounded in reason and which had already presumably ended any reliance upon the authority of the transcendent. Nietzsche wasn’t saying anything new about God or the transcendent; he was saying something new about reason, which was the God of the Enlightenment.

Without either transcendence or reason, no grounds exist for what we call “morality,” other than biology, or the “will to power.” Voegelin calls all this the “egophanic revolt.” [LA note: egophanic is a Voegelinian term meaning a revelation of the ego, as distinct from epiphany, which is a revelation of God or higher truth.]

How does it relate to liberalism? Classic liberalism grew out of, and was based on, the Kantian anthropology of Man as an autonomous individual, operating in self-conscious freedom, grounded in his capacity for reason. This would have been, for example, Thomas Jefferson’s understanding of human anthropology.

Obviously, upon the failure of the Kantian anthropology, as signaled by Nietzsche, liberalism had to adapt. It couldn’t regress into reliance on transcendence, so it descended into nihilism, using and adapting liberal categories and liberal language, primarily the language of “freedom” and “equality.”

The terms “freedom” and “equality” mean something far different that what they meant in Jefferson’s time, because they refer, quite simply, to a different kind of man and therefore to a different kind of society. Men are no longer conscious agents grounded in reason; men are now unconscious products of their biology exercising their sovereign wills, which no one really understands. This latter functioning is now called “freedom.”

Liberalism then referees this free-for-all by application of its principle of “equality,” another Enlightenment term that has been transfigured. Rather than referring to equal participation in national destiny and political choice, equality now means an equality of wills within society, wills among which society can make no distinctions. So, they are all deemed “equal.”

This is the anthropology of advanced liberalism, quite a different thing from that originally understood by men like Jefferson.

Matthew H., the American living in England, writes:

Enjoyed reading that long winded, but accurate description of British “compassionate anarchy.” I was thinking about Jeff’s comment about the UK being almost “paradise” compared to France. It does depend on where one lives in Britain, and where one would choose to live in France. I would guess Mr. Dalrymple probably lives in the southern region or somewhere rural and pleasant and not in the suburbs of French metropolitan cities. I have gone away to the south region in the Rhone and Provence areas and find them to be a true paradise compared to the concrete, soulless landscapes of south London where I live. I just got back from a weekend in the country in Sussex, and I would prefer that kind of traditional middle England to the multicultural hell-hole boroughs of greater London.

France, unlike Britain, houses most of its multicultural projects, outside of the cities and can marginalizes a lot of its social depravation and crime to those famous “no go” areas. Here in parts of England, particularly London, it would seem anywhere could be classified as a “no go” area. Dalrymple’s article illustrates some of this reality, and I can’t blame him for wanting to live somewhere in France. If the kind of anarchy that happened in France last year, (with the Muslim riots), were to take place here in London, it would be true bedlam.

Karen writes from England:

I think Jeff’s comments about France are wrong. Both the UK and France have major problems. However France is generally in better shape than England and that is why many UK citizens like Dalrymple chose to go and live there. France still has a large manufacturing sector and produces cars, trains and aeroplanes, pharmaceuticals and luxury goods. Britain produces nothing and has a massive trade deficit which it has to balance by selling off its major companies including the BAe share of Airbus and the famous P&O. Britain is almost purely a service economy propped up by a real estate boom which in turn must be maintained by large scale immigration to boost the demand for property. Britain’s public services are in a state of collapse. France has bullet trains which are cheap and run on time and a health service which is still functioning well.

Immigrants from the Third World in France are effectively living under apartheid. They are housed in ghettoes out with the cities and these can easily be closed off by the Police and isolated if there are problems. They are just like the South African townships.

When they rioted last year, they were fouling their own nests. The French government does not care as they can contain them if they wish. Immigrants can do only certain jobs which are usually low paid and with poor prospects. Hence in normal French life, one need not deal with immigrants.

In England, the Third World has colonised major parts of the country and it is not possible to be free of immigrants except in the deepest countryside. If immigrants rioted as they did in France, there would be widespread and probably uncontrollable disruption.

Because of the manner in which immigrants live in France and their general exclusion from society, they are coming in large droves to the UK. The French have maintained their own culture, their industries and traditions. The French with their usual cunning will get rid of the Moslems. It is the British who have a major problem.

Jeff in England writes:

A very quick reply to Matthew H:

While I agree with you that the “problem elements” in England may be spread out into wider areas (including the inner cities) than their equivalents in France, I would add that the sort of anarchy that France has experienced is on a far deeper level than here in England. The real sense of chaos in France which both the Muslim riots produced last year and the students produced this year does not exist in England despite all its problems. That chaos is part of a far deeper malaise than that which England is experiencing. Most Muslims here in the UK really did condemn the 7/7 and 21/7 bombings. The black riots are long past and the Asian riots were in a few small cities. Asians and whites and blacks get on fairly well in London and other big cities. If anything they are all united against new immigrants including white Eastern Europeans. This is a much stronger and confident and united culture (despite French bravado) than France, especially since the election of Thatcher. France is experiencing a huge lack of confidence in its own cultural identity. There are many reason for this to be discussed in another article. The UK is also more “dynamic” in the broadest sense of the word Ironically, part of that dynamism is due to its assimilation of immigrants, which is light years ahead of France. Probably that is why so many immigrants want to come here as opposed to France. anti-Semitism, negligible here in the UK, is a burgeoning problem in France both from the indigenous French and the French Muslims

John G. writes:

You and your correspondent, Jeff, raise some doubts about the applicability of calling today’s left-liberals Nietzschean. It is more than likely that Nietzsche would be horrified by today’s liberal use of him, but that our left owe a debt to Nietzsche should be beyond question. The victimary politics of our age, the white guilt, and the whole cult of deconstruction in the academy, are based on the presumption that every act of language (and hence of communal self-affirmation) rests upon some arbitrary assertion of a will to power.

Following the left Nietzschean, Derrida (and in a similar vein, Foucault), today’s academics believe that authority must always (mis)represent itself as if it is present to or reflecting some fundamental reality that exists prior to the acts in which this authority and reality is first represented. Of course, the academics argue that this is the myth inherent to language, that power is itself a construction of language. This interpretation of language and culture as violence is, of course, hogwash, but that’s precisely how Nietzsche has been twisted. As you recognize Lawrence (unlike Nietzsche), language emerges from the community’s need to defer disorder by sharing in significations of the sacred. The will to power cannot explain culture’s emergence (in askesis). But the left are blind to this fact and, lacking faith, they have no other explanation.

LA replies:

Of course you’re right, but I think that this is somewhat apart from what I was saying. My concern is not postmodernism with its radical denial of any truth at all, of any meaning in language. That is the most extreme stage of liberalism. But the most extreme stage of liberalism was not necessary in order for our culture to be destroyed, The main current of Western liberalism has been enough to do that, and therefore focusing on the most extreme stage of liberalism can be a distraction from our main problem.

Further I don’t think the main current of modern Western liberalism came out of Nietzsche. I think it came out of liberalism itself, as a natural development of the denial of transcendence, which leads to the idea of the equality of wills. Now Mark D. may disagree and say that we only got to the definition of society as a collection of equal wills as a result of Nietzsche’s attack on reason, which was then adopted by liberals. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t see it.

Here’s how I see it. First the transcendent is denied, leaving only one little abstract sliver of the transcendent in place, namely the universal idea of equal rights. This is “right-liberalism.” Right-liberalism believes in equal rights and equal procedures under the law. But because right-liberalism has already denied so much of the substantial and transcendent structure of existence, while making the idea of equality the highest idea, the idea of equality, facing no countervailing understandings and values, metastasizes into an all encompassing paradigm. Bush and Rice and the neocons, with their credo that all people in the world are the same and are ready for democracy because they have the same human desires, are not Nietzscheans. The church groups that seek open borders are not Nietzscheans. John Paul II with his demand for the Christ-like sacrifice of Western cultures to Third-World immigrants was not a Nietzschean. So the destruction of the West is not driven by the postmodern attack on all meaning, though of course the postmodernism greatly worsens the situation. The destruction of the West is caused by the extreme belief in equality, which is a natural outgrowth of the older liberalism, and which would arguably have appeared even if Nietzsche had never lived.

Rhona writes:

Just finished reading the Nietzsche thread. I don’t see the value in your responding to Mark D., who shows no understanding of Nietzsche. If N. believed in the “equality of wills” then Hitler really loved Jews. But I would like to respond to your comments on N. in which you said:

“Nietzsche emphasized the absence of truth.” Do you think that N. didn’t believe in the existence of truth? On the contrary, he found it as one of the highest values. Read the preface to Genealogy of Morals or Ecce Homo. I can be more precise if you wish and give you detailed citations.

Because he observed that people find life-serving ideas to be far more important than truth, that does not mean that N. himself didn’t find truth to be one of the highest values. N. took pride in questioning every assumption. He explored the value of truth in different circumstances, i.e., do you tell someone they have terminal cancer? The essence of his philosophy was to question everything. That does not mean that he didn’t think that truth did not exist.

Because of N.’s questioning of truth and his opening of doors to the importance of will and instincts, he has been consistently misunderstood regarding the values he actually holds.

On the matter of will to power—the political is actually the derivative of the psychological. He starts off with the simple idea that every living thing wants to grow, multiply, and seek life-fulfilling things. That is the beginning of will to power. How you integrate reason, rational behavior, noble values, and the will to sacrifice yourself to a noble cause is a very complicated subject. The bottom line is that the beginnings of will to power come from the desire of healthy living beings to grow and multiply.

LA replies:

I would say that Nietzsche believed in truth in the “local” sense, in the sense of the truth about particular things. He denied that there was any objective moral or spiritual truth in the universe. That idea, which is the essence of nihilism according to Fr. Seraphim Rose, is the starting point of Nietzsche’s mature philosophy. As I discussed in a VFR comment, Nietzsche says that each culture in the past achieved its life not by following (as is generally imagined) the will to truth, but by suppressing it in the interests of the will to life. But now a new type of man appears on the scene, exemplified by Nietzsche himself, for whom the will to truth and the will to life are one, the type of man who fulfills his life by scientifically puncturing the false truths by which mankind has lived, and so finding a higher way. Nietzsche calls this activity of exposing and rising above received truths “The Gay Science,” the title of his transitional book. He writes, in The Gay Science, section 110 (which when I was a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder I had on the wall of my apartment): “A thinker is now that being in whom the impulse for truth and those life-preserving errors clash for their first fight, after the impulse for truth has proved to also be a life-preserving error. Compared to the significance of this fight, everything else is a matter of indifference…. To what extent can truth endure incorporation? That is the question, that is the experiment.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 22, 2006 01:44 PM | Send

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