Small moves away from liberalism are not going to turn around the society as a whole

I have previously touched on the change in my thought that occurred last fall concerning the future of America and the West (here, here, and here). I have not been disposed to write a single, very large article explaining my new position. Instead, I will continue to lay out my ideas on the subject as they come to me.

One of the changes is this. Previously, when an establishment conservative writer or a Republican politician said something that indicated a new and better understanding,—an insight into the destructive nature of liberalism, a deeper grasp of the menace of Islam, a greater readiness to acknowledge the reality of cultural/racial differences and the unresolvable contradictions of “diversity”—I would welcome this development, seeing it as a glimmer of hope that a real conservatism, a conservatism that truly resists liberalism, a conservatism which does not now exist, might some day exist.

I no longer react that way. Now when a politician or a mainstream conservative writer says something relatively good, I see it like this: One individual has had an improvement in his understanding, has awakened to some aspect of the falseness of liberalism or of the truth of traditionalism. Other individuals will from time to time have other improvements in their understanding. This is good. But these individual bits of progress are not going to come together into a change in the society as a whole. The society as a whole is going to continue subscribing madly and blindly to liberalism, until the society crashes, or becomes materially or morally unendurable to a decisive number of people, which may be another way of saying the same thing.

At the same time, the rescue of even one person from the hellish falsity of liberalism, even if it does not affect the society as a whole, is a great thing. I know how much this meant in my own life—the process, extending over many years, by which I gradually recognized the untruth of liberalism and developed a new understanding distinct from liberalism, which stands on a separate ground from liberalism. The more people who undergo that liberation and that intellectual and spiritual growth, the better.

However, most of the “bits of progress” that one sees in mainstream conservatism are not of this deeper nature. They are tiny changes which, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I now believe are going nowhere.

As just one example, consider Michael Walsh’s New York Post column which I discussed in late December. Walsh now sees that “militant Islam” aims not just at our political subjugation, but at the destruction of our entire culture, including the greatest cultural achievements and artifacts of our civilization and of all non-Islamic civilizations. That’s a very important insight. Yet at the same time Walsh utters meaningless slogans about using “force” to stop “militant Muslims” from doing this to us, force that he apparently intends to be used against Muslim countries abroad. The idea of defending America and the West from Islam, by stopping, reducing, and reversing the growth of Islam in the West, is evidently the farthest thing from his mind. Given how similar his analysis and “cure” is to the statements of previous “Usual Suspects” over the years, there is no reason to believe that his future intellectual development—or rather his lack of future intellectual development—will be any different from theirs. He and they will continue to warn in the most highly charged terms about the horrible menace of Islam, and continue not to offer a single constructive and logical thought about how to protect ourselves from it.

And that, in a nutshell, is the way I see “conservatism”—and I’m speaking here of “conservatism” at its best, a “conservatism” which pushes against the liberal envelope but will never break free of it. And because any chance for the survival of our civilization depends on conservatism breaking free of liberalism, I no longer expect our civilization to be saved. Not in its present form. Not until after it has crashed, or, as I said above, until it has become morally or materially unbearable to a large enough number of people. Which may not ever happen. Our society—meaning all the societies of the West—may just continue getting worse and worse, even while it continues to contain enough good things that people make their peace with it and regard the traditionalist view as off-base and extreme, such as the author of this article.

Just as I no longer expect the good little changes to cohere into a good change in the society as a whole, I no longer expect the bad things in our society to be broadly discredited. For example, when I see Republicans or establishment conservatives uttering some vapid and dangerous idiocy, such as Condoleezza Rice still blandly insisting, as the answer to every criticism of the Bush/Obama/neocon Muslim Democracy policy, that “everyone wants freedom,” I no longer think, “This madness cannot last, it must be repudiated.” Now I think, “She and others like her will continue saying such things until our society crashes.”

Or when I see Army Chief of Staff Army George Casey state on television that removing an openly jihadist Muslim from the Army before he committed jihadist mass murder would have damaged the Army’s diversity and thus been a “greater tragedy” than the mass murder that he did commit, I no longer think that this is a shocking, horrible outrage against America. I think: This is America. This is what our society formally believes and accepts. The total absence of any mainstream opposition to Casey’s remark proves it. And there is no reason to believe that such opposition will appear in the foreseeable future. Casey’s statement is not some freaky perversion of America. It is what America is.

In late November I jotted down a list of suicidal liberal beliefs that will continue and will not be renounced:

  1. Accommodating Islam, not seeing what Islam is.

  2. Accepting mass nonwhite immigration, thinking of America as a “nation of immigrants,” thinking that immigration is the essence of our country and therefore no criticism or restriction of immigration is allowed.

  3. Accepting the empowerment of women.

  4. Surrendering to most or all aspects of the homosexualist agenda.

  5. Refusal to see negative truths about blacks, giving blacks more and more power.

  6. Acceptance/support of the neocon agenda of spreading democracy

  7. Sexual liberation / nonjudgmentalness.

  8. And the most important one of all—the belief that black failure, dysfunction, and violence is due to white racism.

The list is just a beginning and could be expanded and refined, but you get the idea.

* * *

What I have been saying here does not mean that there is no hope and that there is nothing for traditionalist conservatives to do.

First, we must continue to fight to stop and reverse those things that will make our situation much worse, such as Obamacare and the legalization of illegal aliens (a.k.a. amnesty). These are battles that can be won.

At the same time, we need to recognize that even if we win those short term battles and slow the destruction of society, we cannot reverse the overall destructive course.

If the destructive course can’t be stopped, what then is there for us to do?

  • Continue to critique and denounce the mainstream and show why its false, evil, and doomed;

  • Lay out an alternative vision of society (which will not be adopted or have any significant effect on the society in the foreseeable future); and

  • Build up a traditionalist organization/community which serves as a spiritual and social life raft and which, as the mainstream society gets worse and worse, will attract more and more people.

I should add this. When I say that our society cannot be turned around, it is not my intention to persuade others that my view is correct. There are those who still believe, as I believed and argued for many years, that it is possible to save our society in its historical form. I am not going to tell them that they are wrong or try to win them over to my view. If a person is engaged in a battle to save society, he must be respected. What I state on this subject, I state as my opinion. We’re considering future events which no one can predict. If it turns out that I am wrong, I will be happy. But I see things the way I see them, and because VFR is so much an expression of my own outlook, I must be straightforward about the way I see them.

Finally, a thought on how to survive the darkness.

I wrote in a comment at VFR in July 2003:

About ten years ago I was watching Stanley Fish being interviewed by Richard Heffner on the PBS program The Open Mind. The sheer audacious evil and nihilism of the post-modern, truth-denying Fish—which was not opposed at all by the courtly, old-fashioned liberal Heffner—was incredible. But as I was watching this unutterably disgusting, evil man, an odd thing happened—I began to believe all the more in God. It struck me that such evil COULD NOT EXIST unless there was a good that it was rebelling against. After all, the very motive of the evil was to deny truth and goodness. Which means that such evil could not exist of itself. It is purely a derivative phenomenon. Therefore the greater the evil, the more that proves the existence of the good, and its power to defeat evil.

The evil that seems to be taking over America is like that: it calls us back to the truth of which it is the opposite and the enemy. So there is a plan. It is to know the truth and to resist the false—whatever particular political form that resistance may take.

From the thought that evil is but a reaction against the good, comes another: If evil is a reaction against the good, then the evil is coextensive with the good. If God is infinite, the reaction against God must also be infinite. If truth is infinite, falsity, which is the shadow of truth, must be infinite.

This explains why there is such falsity and evil in the world. It is not a proof that the good is absent or weak. It is a reaction against the good and derives its perverted energy from the good. It is the proof of the good’s existence. And this helps us overcome the despair that encroaches on us at the sight of evil and madness ascendant and triumphant.

—end of initial entry—

Daniel S. writes:

I see that we have come to similar conclusions. I now understand that there is no turning back the course that the West has set for itself, at least not with things as they stand now. America and the rest of the West have not merely been hijacked by insane liberalism, they are liberalism! I agree with you that the most we can do is try to keep the system from doing us even more harm (Obamacare, amnesty, etc.), and begin to prepare ourselves for the long, painful collapse of what is left of Western civilization. Though, I want to make clear that in coming to this conclusion I have not embraced despair, but rather I truly believe that which is true, good, and beautiful will ultimately arise from the ashes, however long that may take.

As to your observations on God and the nature of evil, you wrote:

But as I was watching this unutterably disgusting, evil man, an odd thing happened—I began to believe all the more in God. It struck me that such evil could not exist unless there was a good that it was rebelling against. After all, the very motive of the evil was to deny truth and goodness. Which means that such evil could not exist of itself. It is purely a derivative phenomenon. Therefore the greater the evil, the more that proves the existence of the good, and its power to defeat evil.

Again, this is similar to my own observations. I clearly see the bulk of modernity as pure, Luciferian rebellion. It offers nothing positive in its own right, but only perpetual rebellion against God and the nature of the universe. Liberalism is at its core a rebellion against reality itself. I had trouble understanding what St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas after him meant when they talked about evil as something negative and without true being. But seeing evil in the world that I know, I begin to understand its parasitic nature.

Paul K. writes:

I found your essay very thought-provoking and consistent with what I have been mulling over recently. You always manage to crystallize ideas I find it difficult to express.

To Number 5 on your list, “Refusal to see negative truths about blacks, giving blacks more and more power” I would add, “and moral authority,” which is slightly different. For example, after Omar Thornton killed five whites he claimed were racist, many in the media considered that accusation worthy of consideration because, as a black man, even a mass murderer, Thornton has moral authority on that matter.

J. Samson writes:

Daniel says:

“As to your observations on God and the nature of evil … this is similar to my own observations.”

Mine as well. To digress for a moment, let me say that I have always felt C.S. Lewis’ strength to be not his apologetic arguments, but his descriptions of the world. His genius lies in explaining human nature in a way that makes me say, “Yes! I know exactly what you’re talking about, because I see and feel exactly the same way!” For a long time I have found this sort of “universality of experience” to be convincing evidence that there are universal, transcendent truths—and I feel the same way about what you’ve posted, Lawrence. The greater the evil, the more obvious God’s presence—this is a truth that I think many Christian thinkers arrive at independently, and the reason they do is because it’s true.

If you’ve never heard of it, I recommend to you the book Shake Hands With the Devil, by former Canadian general Romeo Dallaire. Dallaire was commander of UN forces in Rwanda during the genocide there. In the foreword to the book, he writes:

“After my time in Rwanda, a military chaplain back home asked me how I could still believe in God after all that I’d seen. I replied that I believed in God because I’d seen the devil.”

Just so. Don’t lose hope, readers—our God is still with us.

Kristor writes:

Back in 1973, when I was a teenaged commie, I used to engage with my commie friends in political discussions that would go on for hours and hours. The only thing I remember from those discussions is a dictum that arose from within me one day, unbidden, yet fully formed, when we were talking about what it meant to be a radical: “To be a radical is to be forever unsatisfied with the content of history, yet reconciled to the process of history.” This attitude will be familiar to readers of VFR from the phenomenon here oft noted, of the fact that liberals understand there to be no limit, no stopping point, to the process of social reform. What has happened and is now happening, however many improvements there might have been, is totally unsatisfactory, and awaits the incipient onset of a gnostic New Age, in which every sordid thing that has come before will be repudiated and destroyed. Nevertheless, however, the ugly things that are happening now are the birth pangs of that New Age, and since birth is painful, it is to be expected that the process should make most of us quite uncomfortable (and even, many of us, dead); yet for the sake of that glorious New Age, we should not chafe at our discomforts of ugliness, but rather shoulder them cheerfully, happy with the way things are tending. That’s a radical: forever unhappy with things as they are, while delighted with the endless evolutionary/revolutionary process of history as it works its way toward a new utopian order.

It strikes me that this dictum is just as applicable to Traditionalist radicals as it is to those of the Left, albeit along a diametrically different vector; for the Traditionalist sees history as having Fallen from a Golden Age, and tending toward an ultimate, inescapable eschatological catastrophe, while the Leftist sees it as going the opposite direction. As pessimists about the prospects for a merely human project of saving the world, Traditionalists are more apt to respect and cherish the beauties it has so far produced, that are in the nature of things always eventually lost to the flux of time, and skeptical about their “new, improved” replacements. Until the Enlightenment, such was the prevalent attitude—the traditional attitude—in all cultures and throughout history. The hope added thereto by the Christian Gospel, of an ultimate, permanent, and total redemption of history at the eschaton, completed that vision, healing and correcting the despair that it had recommended to men, and nerving them to the creation of new and sublime creaturely beauties: cathedrals, songs, voyages, poems, discoveries, philosophies, enterprises of all kinds.

Our job then—indeed our duty—as Traditionalist radicals is, to name the uglinesses now pervading our world, not surrendering to despair thereat, but rather rejoicing nonetheless in the marvelous and orderly beauty that still, always, nevertheless surrounds us, and determined to enact such new beauties as may be within our poor powers. We are all of us engaged throughout our lives in a steady progress toward our own personal holocausts, in which every good thing we have loved will be immolated. Yet we may have confidence that, as all of history is an instrument and expression of Beauty Himself, so must that Beauty which is the source of all things eventually, utterly prevail in and through all things. We may therefore—indeed, we should—make our way toward our common doom, singing and rejoicing, if only to adorn this world’s everlasting resurrection. For, thanks to the Divine omniscience, no worldly good can fail of resurrection in the life to come.

And that, in the final analysis, is why we humans have children, and want to have children. It is why we want to preserve them, and to preserve our culture, and our lives. It is why we are ordered toward reproduction, survival, prosperity, enjoyment. Mere death makes all these things vain, empty, stupid. If death were the end of the story, none of these things would be worth doing, much; so that as our culture has come to believe in the ultimate finality of death, it has done less and less of them. But if death is not the end of the story, and the goods of this world are destined to permanent life in the world to come, then all these vital pleasures are objectively and immensely important—not all-important, to be sure, not first things, but important nonetheless.

What then ought we to do about the death of our culture? Do what is good, and beautiful, and virtuous. Nothing will be wasted, no good thing forever lost; everything will be remembered, and accounted for. From the good and virtuous things that we engender—children, mostly, but also our work, our charity, our thought, our art—something appropriate will arise. We may trust in that.

Paul T. writes:

As you say, you’ve been heading in this direction for a few months or more, but as a summing-up of your position, this may be one of the most important things you’ve written. And I see that it’s bringing out the best in the other posters (like Kristor) as well. Thank you!

LA replies:

I wouldn’t say I’ve been heading in this direction. It became my direction, or my new outlook, in the space of a couple of weeks this past fall. But there is a huge amount to say about this new outlook and I’ve only just begun.

Also, this outlook is not actually new. It’s more a change of gestalt, in which the background becomes the foreground. For many years my position has been that we were in very bad shape but that it was possible to turn it around. So I always placed the emphasis on that possibility. For example, I never simply ended an article about some horror in our society and left it at that. I always ended with the point that it doesn’t have to be this way, that we can restore a better America. That is what has changed. I no longer think such a positive reversal of direction it’s possible. The overall shape of the picture I am looking at has not changed, but, in my consciousness of the picture, the foreground and the background have switched. The likelihood that liberalism would go on until it has crashed our civilization is now in the foreground of my thoughts, and the possibility that liberalism may collapse before it has reached that point is in the background—or rather I’ve dismised it as a practical scenario. While my philosophy has not changed, the change of perspective I have described changes many of my responses to contemporary political and cultural phenomena.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 12, 2012 08:43 AM | Send

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