Robert Spencer replies to my criticism of him over “Lady Gaga”

Last month, when Robert Spencer said that Indonesia had failed the test of modernity and moderation by barring the creature named “Lady Gaga” from performing in that country, I objected to his position here, and in a second entry added:

Is Spencer’s guiding principle freedom (including the freedom of “Lady Gaga” to spread her degeneracy to every country in the world), or is it the good? If the former, he’s a liberal; if the latter, he’s a conservative in the true sense.

And I would add this: it is only a conservative Western country, a country that makes the good its highest principle (by which I mean, of course, its understanding of the good), that can bar from its shores the evil of Islam. A country that makes freedom its highest principle must remain open to everyone and everything, including Islam. And an Islam-critical intellectual who makes freedom his highest principle can never do anything about the Islam threat except to watch it; he is incapable of making or embracing any serious proposals to stop and reverse the fatal spread of Islam amongst us.

Shortly afterward, Daniel S. wrote to me:

Robert Spencer has replied to our traditionalist critique of his implicit support for an eventually canceled Lady Gaga concert in Indonesia and our criticism that he holds abstract freedom as the highest social value. He writes:

When I wrote before about Islamic supremacist opposition to Lady Gaga in modern, moderate Indonesia, some people noted that Christians there opposed her as well, and asserted that any non-Muslim society with a healthy regard for decent values would not allow to her to perform, either. Society, some argued, should hold the good, not freedom, as its highest value. Left unexplained, however, is how a commonly accepted understanding of “the good” is to be arrived at, and particularly how such an understanding could be restored in 21st-century America without imposing an authoritarian regime of some kind. Also, one wonders if proponents of such ideas would object to the intimidation and particularly to the death threats that ultimately led to the cancellation of Lady Gaga’s Indonesian show.

And finally, Sharia states are oriented toward the good, not freedom, as their highest value. How would the ideal state of these authoritarian Western “conservatives” be different?

I am not even going to address his implication that we have little qualm with death threats, such a thing is irrelevant to the point that his critics were making and purely diversionary. What does stand out is his linking traditionalists who think that the good should be pursued and not just some abstract, liberal notion of freedom with Muslims imposing shariah. Spencer is considered a conservative, but other than his stance on the issue of Islam, he looks more and more liberal every day.
- end of initial entry -

Ben M. writes:

Robert Spencer writes, “Left unexplained, however, is how a commonly accepted understanding of “the good” is to be arrived at, and particularly how such an understanding could be restored in 21st-century America without imposing an authoritarian regime of some kind.”

It’s time to address the use of the word “authoritarian.” One plus one equals two is authoritarian. A is not non-A is authoritarian. Thou shalt not kill is authoritarian. The Bill of Rights is authoritarian. I am a male is authoritarian. I am an American citizen is authoritarian. The structure of a sentence is authoritarian. The components, variables, relationships and sequence of an equation are authoritarian. North America being adjacent to Central America which is next to South America is authoritarian. The force of gravity is authoritarian. I will die is authoritarian. [LA replies: While I agree with your overall point, I think that “authoritative” would be a better word here than “authoritarian.” Authority is not the same thing as authoritarianism. Authority implies standards, and leadership enforcing those standards, to which people voluntarily consent. Authoritarianism means a rule imposed on people without their consent and against their will.]

Authoritarianism is one of those code words that survives by implication and inference.

Spencer questions how the good can be arrived at. Very, very simple. In a Judeo-Christian society the good is arrived at through the principles enunciated in the Old and New Testaments. There are enough clear concepts, specifics and details in the Bible to form an unequivocal concept of the good. “Have you not read the Scriptures?” and “It is written” was sufficient for Jesus as stated by him on many occasions. Was he being “authoritarian?” Of course he was—“There is none good but God” specifies the source of all value and specifically the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. But then God is authoritarian in that he cannot deny himself or speak ambiguously …

LA replies:

Thank you for saying this. It is a big part of what I wanted to say myself. Does Spencer actually think that our own society does not enunciate and command its own understanding of the good?

Our society has landmarking laws, because it regards the preservation of noteworthy structures as good. It takes away the freedom of the owners of those buildings to do what they want with them. Would Spencer say that such laws, by rendering a certain understanding of the good higher than a certain type of freedom, makes our society indistinguishable from a sharia ruled society?

Our society requires that children have a certain number of years of education, because it regards education as good, and its complete absence as bad. Would Spencer say that such laws make our society indistinguishable from a sharia ruled society?

Our society prohibits incest, because it regards incest as bad. Would Spencer say that such laws make our society indistinguishable from a sharia ruled society?

Our society prohibits innumerable things, because it regards them as bad, and it encourages innumerable other things, because it regards them as good. But Spencer, as a liberal who has never reflected on his own liberalism, can only conceptualize our own society in terms of unqualified freedom and the rejection of any common understanding of the good. He has no grasp of the fact our society authoritatively enforces its own understanding of the good.

The true question is, not whether a society shares and enforces its own understanding of the good, since ALL societies, even liberal society, enforce their understanding of the good. The question is: WHAT does any particular society see as good, and as bad?

For example, our liberal society prohibits and punishes racial discrimination, because it regards racial discrimination as bad, and the absence of racial discrimination as good. Would Spencer say that this makes liberal society indistinguishable from a sharia society?

A key difference between liberal society and all other types of society is that liberal society falsely denies that it has authoritative understandings of the good. It claims that it only believes in freedom. All non-liberal societies, by contrast, openly acknowledge and affirm that they have certain common understandings of the good, which are enforced by law and custom. This difference makes liberal society uniquely dishonest and dangerous, since the more power liberal society acquires to suppress non-liberal understandings, the more it keeps asserting that it only believes in freedom. Liberal society’s dishonest denial that it exercises power and authority makes its power invisible and unaccountable. It is thus potentially the most tyrannical form of society.

For a further discussion of this important idea, see my 2001 article at Newsmax, “‘Transparency’ Revealed: The U.N. Sees Us, We Can’t See Them.” See also Jim Kalb’s seminal 2000 essay, “The Tyranny of Liberalism.”

Finally, Spencer writes: “Left unexplained, however, is how a commonly accepted understanding of ‘the good’ is to be arrived at.” The explanation, which seems never to have occurred to him, is that arriving at a commonly accepted understanding of the good is the fundamental, self-defining task of all societies—whether they are liberal, or sharia-based, or anything in-between.

Ed H. writes:

Spencer plays the usual liberal gambit of suggesting that any definition of “the good” must be arbitrary and would be enforced by “authority” in the shape of draconian laws, jackbooted police, etc. This is what “authority” means to Robert Spencer and it is exactly the imagery called forth by any teenager playing at “rebellion” against the adult world. Go to any rock concert and you will find droves of such “rebels” all play-acting out this game, knowing full well that their daring postures and “defiance” will get exactly zero response from those in “Authority.” But Spencer does not have the excuse of youth, he is not 19 years old, except perhaps emotionally. He is old enough to remember an America where the vulgarity and mindlessness of a Lady Gaga was rejected by the presence of real art, and real culture and real manners. Such cultural “authority” was not arbitrary. It was the result of a living and truly “free” society actively searching out the finer levels of genuine feeling and manners and refusing to be intimidated by the vulgar and shallow. By definition, Culture meant self awareness, discrimination, broad understanding. It was the opposite of “arbitrary.”

Spencer like all good liberals has no awareness of Culture as such an enterprise. It was this supremely active and thoughtful enterprise that built our civilization up over 2,500 years and which, up to 1960s, defined the West. Furthermore a society built on such intense self awareness and discrimination has every right to protect itself against the incapable, the vulgar, and the aggressive. And Lady Gaga is nothing if she is not aggressive. Once upon a time people in the West felt no qualms about codes of decency, religion, and civic society protecting the gains of society by necessary means. What these means are is not defined “arbitrarily,” but by the matter at hand.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 02, 2012 01:49 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):