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The pre-history of Leftism in Christian heresy

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 21, 2018

What is a “leftist”?

We hear the word “leftist” a lot, but what does it really mean?  Is the left good, or bad, or just ugly? Should we moralize about leftists, and does leftism have an actual history which can be discovered? I heartily embrace the notion that the left/right schematic for understanding politics is a distorting mirror which would best be discarded.  None the less, there was for the last two, or even three hundred years, an identifiable line of thought called “left” first in Europe, then in North America, and then throughout the world.

I do not think the left was always evil.  In that respect it is different from Communism, which may be defined as that tendency within the left towards domination for the sake of domination.  In contrast, it would seem that leftism originally had some motivating ethical ideal, in relation to which politics was only a means to an end.  The ubiquitous yet morally ambivalent nature of leftism has echoed through the chronicles of American popular culture, ranging from the communistic to the comic.  In the 1960s Al Capp, the creator of the Líl Abner cartoon series, introduced a new character into his strip,  Jeannie Phonenei.  Jeannie Phonenei was Capp’s attempt to mock everything which was wrong with the left wing activists of that day: she was a narcissistic hypocrite who drove around in a Mercedes and composed folk songs like “Molotov Cocktails for Two.”

Taking the characterization personally, the celebrated singer and war protester Joan Baez objected to Capp’s sense of humor.   Truly, if Capp had intended to needle the anguished, earnest and (significantly) Christian Joan, it was a cruel joke.  Rather Capp’s jests would have been better aimed at that other siren of the sixties, the opportunistic actress Jane Fonda, who was a professed Communist.  Later it would turn out that she would profess anything, including Christianity.  However Joan Baez was the real deal, not a Communist, but a genuine leftist…whatever that might be.  Yet, even though Communism and Leftism are distinct ideologies, history has repeatedly shown that leftists tend to wind up as the enablers of Communist movements and, ultimately, states.  From their initial position as idealistic activists, they quickly become tools for persons far more cunning and devious than they originally bargained for.  Why is this?  It is a tragedy which has been reenacted numerous times and in sundry places, yet before we review the tragic destiny of leftism, we need to investigate its origins.

Towards a Critique of Pure Goodness

To reiterate, I deny that all leftists are intrinsically evil. Rather, I would have you draw a picture of good people when you think of the early leftists, indeed, of super-good people!   Of course, since we all have become wary of the Hegelian dialectic, from the outset “super-goodness” tends to give us the uneasy feeling of sitting precariously on a Humpty-Dumpty wall of perfection, not only a fragile position, but one containing the seed of its annihilation through the wrath of its contrary.

Leftism, as a self-defined movement, dates only from the French Revolution and the spread of J. J. Rousseau’s secularist, populist notions.  However the ethical roots of leftism go back much deeper, into what we call “Western history” or more properly Christendom.  The West got its start as the remaining crust of Christendom, after Mohammad, the Caliphs, Tammurlane, and the Turks had gobbled up much of Africa and Asia.  Thus the political movements which would later emerge as “the left” were essentially Christian, and only accidentally European, in their origin.

This is not my own hypothesis, or a special theory devised by those among us who are seeking to expose the errors of the left.  To say nothing of Max Weber, this religious pedigree was mooted about proudly by the cultural Marxists themselves, notably Adorno, Horkheimer, and other luminaries of the Frankfort school.  They pointed out that the earliest radical movements in the West were “chiliastic” in nature, or what might be dismissed as outbreaks of mass hysteria premised on a speedy end to the present world and the establishment of the kingdom of God on Earth.  Having scant interest in theology, the Frankfort thinkers moved on to develop their ideas about a sociology of knowledge.  From an opposing view, the cognitive content of this early chiliasm was closely examined in the voluminous works of conservative philosopher Erick Voeglin.  Both the Frankfort School and Vogelin concurred that Western radical thought had been initiated as far back as the middle ages, the former lauding these early movements as “chiliasm” while the latter deplored what he termed the persistent “gnosticism” of the West.

Voeglin, a brilliant thinker, was prone to stuff every development in Western thought into his portmanteau term-of-art “gnosticism.”   For Voeglin, and many others, “gnosticism” is the penchant of elites for using esoteric knowledge to control mass movements.  I would agree with Voeglin, that this is the very quintessence of Communism.  However I want to make a clear distinction between Communism and leftism.  If Communism is, as Voeglin proposes, a disease of the mind, perhaps leftism is a disease of the heart.  Therefore, if we look at the Christian pedigree of leftist movements we will have to become theologians.  However it is not the theology of the Trinity, of creation, or of any other metaphysical principle that will concern us.  Rather we will need to take a close look Christian ethics, and especially, heretical Christian ethics.

What the early Church Fathers knew, and Voeglin often omits, is the source of heresy, invariably, the twisting of scripture.  Proof-texts are the bane of theology, but the essential starting point of all heresies.  Thus…

…for him that takes your cloak, forbid not to take your coat also. (Luke 6:29b)

Is a famous “twister” (not to be confused with the party game) that has entertained nudists, naturalists, and sundry Adamites for two millennia.   Of far greater historical significance were the mendicant friars, whose bonfire of vanities were sparked by Francis of Assizi giving away his clothes and walking around town naked until someone thoughtfully provided him with a brown burlap sack, thus instituting the habit of a new order.  This holy striptease might be described as extremism in pursuit of literalism.   To the credit of the order Francis founded, the poverty-loving “spirituals” were quickly purged and the monks got back to what monks do best: working, praying,  and building up vast quantities of tangible, informational, and social capital.

While there is something charming about the voluntary poverty of the friars, the antics of the early Anabaptists were positively horrific.   Before they flipped into their benign opposites, e.g., pacifist Amish and Mennonites, they terrorized reformation-era Europe with the prospect of a perfect commonwealth, (a.k.a., your wealth is mine to share in common) and their “twister” included the more  famous first half of Luke 6:29.

And to him who smite you on the cheek, offer to him the other… (ibid. 29a)

Much as the early Franciscans stripped unbidden by any request from the poor, the pastoral wolves of the fringe reformation were willing to start the smiting, on the understanding that their bullied flocks were honor-bound not to resist.    A city was infiltrated, a monarchy was established under the vicarage of a prophet, and utopia was commenced.  This experiment proved so popular that the citizens welcomed back their previous oppressors with open arms and hung the  prophet on a gibbet….in perpetuity.

Scriptural hermeneutics over superheros

Granted, both the spiritual Franciscans and the early Anabaptists interpreted the scripture in a way that was not just literal but pro-active and extreme.   My contention is that a more passive reading of the texts, though perhaps even more literal, is still socially disastrous in the long run.  Let’s take the example, drawn from countless incidents in real life, of a child who comes home crying because a bully has stolen his or her lunch money.  You and I know both what the reaction of a normal parent would be, so we can skip the pyrotechnics.

However let’s examine the case of a not-so-normal “spiritual” parent.  Little Johnny or Jill comes home to the following comfort.  “Yes, I know you feel bad, but you really should allow that bully to steal from you…it will make you more Christ-like.”  The following day the situation repeats itself.  “Really you shouldn’t cry…every time you are being bullied you are becoming more Christ-like and are bringing your tormentor closer to salvation.”  Where do you think this is likely to end up?  Perhaps, indeed, it will lead to the sanctification (or even martyrdom) of the child and the salvation of the bully.  If J.J. Rousseau is right and all people are benevolent beings who just need to have their non-benevolent inconsistencies pointed out to them…in such a world perhaps this schoolyard tragedy will have a happy ending.  That is not, however, the world portrayed by scripture.

The scriptural passage in referred to above is contained in one of the great ethical discourses of Jesus, the one which extends through Luke v.v. 19-49.  Towards its end it includes the exhortation to “build a house upon a deeply dug foundation, a foundation of rock”(paraphrase v. 48) which might be taken as a hint that this, and other, ethical discourses are in fact parables which compel deep study and interpretation.  Read in the most superficial manner, the ethical discourses seem to enjoin charity, kindness, and goodwill to all our fellow creatures.  Surely there can be no objection to such an interpretation.  However if we meditate on these passages in a more somber vein, we begin to notice the urgency and hyperbolic nature of the sayings, and from this we may surmise that they reflect a unified ethical doctrine, the doctrine of non-resistance to evil.  I have characterized the doctrine of non-resistance to evil as the “doctrine of giving the bully your lunch money” which seems, on the face of it, a moral absurdity.

In the face of moral absurdity, we can either give up and go back to explaining the ethical discourses as “exhortations to charity” or dig even deeper and see if we can uncover anything more solid than the doctrine of non-resistance to evil.  Now it seems to me that we can interpret the ethical discourses in at least four ways: 1) the literal, 2) the spiritual, 3) the historical, or dispensational, and finally 4) the Christocentrc, or Messianic.  Now, my main task in this writing is to critique the ancient Christian origins of the modern left.  Furthermore, I discern a salient connection between the literal interpretation of the ethical discourses and the rise of the left.  Therefore, since we are rejecting the left and not Christianity, an exposition of scripture deeper than the literal is required, especially since the literal interpretation drives the interpreter towards the deadly doctrine of non-resistance to evil.

The immediate alternative to the literal-ethical interpretation is the spiritual interpretation.  If we are indeed vessels of the Holy Spirit we will have an infinite amount of energy, health, and wealth at our disposal.  Thus we will not only be able to give the playground bullies of life all our lunch money, but lead them towards salvation.  Unfortunately this is not an interpretation which is accessible to skeptics who masquerade as Christians, since the only parts of the Bible they take literally are the ethical discourses, and any hint of a reality beyond the flesh  is dismissed as a fairy tale.   Personally, I am overjoyed to assent to all the implications of the spiritual interpretation.  Unfortunately, mere assent does not automatically turn on the spigots of the Spirit.  The actual activation of these powers requires faith, and deepening faith is the work of a lifetime.

The next alternative to the literal interpretation of the ethical discourses is the historical interpretation.  This might also be called the “dispensational” interpretation, albeit the notion of dispensations comes freighted with all sorts of diverse and divisive implications.  None the less, perhaps we can simplify things by limiting ourselves to a transposition of the terms in Luke 6: 29 as they might have been heard c. 30AD by an ear straining for a word of prophecy.

“the smiting”=the Romans

“the other cheek”=lay down your arms, flee to the hills

“giving the outer garment” = let the Romans take Jerusalem

“giving the inner garment”=let the Romans defile the Temple

This is indeed a bitter prophetic brew, however unlike the general doctrine of non-resistance toward evil, it is a particular bitterness in the cup of the Jewish people.  Christ wasn’t rejected because he spoke about the lilies of the field.  Since it is tangential to the purposes of this writing I won’t pursue the historical interpretation any further.

A further alternative to the literal-ethical, and arguably the most on target, is the reading which allows Christ to be speaking self-referentially of his soon-to-be-accomplished Passion.  Again, the same sort of prophetic transposition can be made of the terms which appear in Luke 6:29

“the smiting”=totality of Anti-Messianic forces: Herodians, Pharisees,  Roman government, etc.

“the other cheek”=”Not my will but that of my Father be done!”

“giving the outer garment”=the Kingdom taken away from the people

“giving the inner garment”=the Messiah taken away from Earth

Undoubtedly there are other interpretations, but the addition of these three to the literal-ethical should highlight the parabolic nature of the ethical discourses, teachings which require study and some sort of response, albeit a response which we may have to “dig” to discover, rather than a systematic code of ethics intended to replace the mitzvah of the Old Testament.  Indeed, if these teachings are ethics at all, they are an ethics of crisis, intended to guide the initial band of believers before, during, and perhaps for some time after the Resurrection.  They are not, and this is really the main point, intended as the immutable charter for a sustainable human community.  This should be all the easier to see since the Bible does indeed contain such a charter…the Torah.

Red Letter Bibles and Reds 

The ethical discourses of Christ are indeed the proof tests of the leftist (or liberal, progressive, social, call it what you will) heresy, that grand attempt to re-found and remold the Christian religion.  Just as the peroration on Wisdom in the Proverbs of Solomon provided Arius with a proof-text for Unitarianism, the pretext for Leftism, in a still Christian Europe, was the ethics of Jesus.  Unfortunately this Jesus was not Jesus the Christ, but a Jesus who was a philosopher, seer, wonder-worker and perapatetic prophet.

This was the Jesus of the so-called Enlightenment (18th century and afterwards) and it marked a further worsening of Europe’s moral and religious condition.  In contrast, the spiritual Franciscans and the Anabaptists, whatever their excesses, at least had continued to believe in God and the supernatural.  Their ethical extremism was difficult to constrain, but their heterodoxy could be exposed in conclave with fellow Christians, since they still  operated on a common set of principles, facilitating the escape of wandering sheep from ravenous wolves.

However the atheism of the Enlightenment tended to displace the spiritual center of gravity of all who fell under its influence, even those who continued to profess Christianity.  Whereas the churches had previously treated Christ’s claims to divinity literally and treat the ethical discourses as parables, this polarity was reversed among all who fell under the spell of the Enlightenment.  Now, in metaphysics this view (with no afterlife, judgement or so forth) alternately scandalized and relieved the thinking public, but for ethics the new attitude it was supposed to be an unqualified benefit.  And why not?  At last ethics was liberated from theology.  At last one was free to consider Jesus, not as a savior, but a philosopher, and indeed the best, the most heroic, the purest of all philosophers who ever lived.  It was just the sort of philosophy which might prove capable of uniting all of humanity in a common band of brotherhood.  It was under this banner that the sans-coulotts (a moniker reminiscent of Luke 6:29b!) marched…unfortunately to the guillotine.

Two generations later on we find similar views still attracting followers, even in France where the failure of the Revolution should have been obvious.  Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a monument to a reinvented Christianity where altruistic ethics triumphs over law, theology, and sometimes common sense, yet we still applaud wildly even in the 21st century.  We applaud because Hugo gives us what we want, a feel-good ethics based on the most superficial reading of Christ’s ethical discourses, a reading where Jesus is telling us “be nice”…especially when you encounter the hard-luck cases.  I don’t dispute that this is a correct application of scripture, but I would warn that separation of ethics from theology becomes increasingly perilous the deeper down the philosophical rabbit hole you go.  The saving grace of Hugo was his superficiality as a thinker.  Hugo’s  contemporary, Ernst Renan, pursued the subject more carefully in his Life of Jesus, but stopped before plumbing the full implications of making non-resistance to evil the primary axiom of human life.  Schopenhauer could see further into the abyss, and rejected ethics for aesthetics.  Nietzsche saw even further and decided to join what he deemed the winning side, evil itself.

Until very recently few people have been willing to go “the full Nietzsche.”  The more popular option has been to keep the form while neglecting the substance of Christianity.  This is a gambit with many variations, most of the variations involving indifference and dry formalism.  However, since the Enlightenment and growing in popularity, there has always been a hard core of “atheistic” Christians, deadly serious in their desire to see the Kingdom of God established on Earth.  For these people, were they have to a church, it could only be humanity as a whole, and if they were to have a spirit it would not be the separated and Holy One.  Such people, on the whole, have the appearance of goodness, and significantly they have the scriptures…or at least a part of the scriptures, what Erick Voeglin would call a “qurán.”  In Voeglin’s nomenclature a qurán is a text used to enshrine the principles of a social movement.  Obviously, the Qurán is the qurán of Islam, but the Communist Manifesto is the qurán of Marxism, Interpretation of Dreams is the qurán of Freudianism and likewise for each movement there is more often than not a privileged and authoritative text.

Unsurprisingly this atheistic or liberal Christianity, that very Christianity which is the font and origin of Leftism, has its own qurán.  Yet what makes this movement such a singular phenomenon is that the qurán in question is found in the Bible itself.  To be sure, this qurán is only a fraction of the entire Bible, yet for the atheistic Christian it is the only part of the Bible worth preserving, and as you have no doubt guessed, it consists mainly the the ethical discourses of Jesus.  Another distinctive of this qurán is that it is generally not found bound in a separate codex, but rather is almost always found anthologized with other books of the Bible, though from a purist perspective of an ethical and atheistic Christian these are clearly dutero-cannonical.  Perhaps in the spirit of toleration the liberal and ethical Christian is unwilling to excise such barbarous relics as the book of Genesis or the salacious Song of Songs.

In fact, the only editorially consistent attempt at purifying the ethical qurán of the philosopher Jesus from the dross of Hebraic literature was the work of our own libertarian idol, and all round rock-star, Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson did a heroic cut-and-paste job back when that phrase meant hands stinking with glue rather than clicking on a drop-down menu.  The resulting Jefferson’s Bible, composed primarily of philosophical discourses by the Jesus-guy, is one of the world’s greatest literary curiosities.  Jefferson commended it to Congress, which, with typical celerity, took a half century to consider declaring it as the fundamental qurán of the American nation.  So much for separation of church and state.  In reality budgetary restraints prevented the dissemination of TJ’s qurán, and as we all know, a creed without a propaganda organ dies the slow death of obscurity.

However the absence of a handbook never seemed to bother the Christian proto-leftists very much.  They knew what to reverence and what to discard.  For those lacking in discernment, bibles began to be printed with the words of Christ in red.  This keyed the reader into what had really been said by Jesus and what had been crammed surreptitiously into the margin by apostles, evangelists and sundry rogues.  As it turned out, pretty much everything other than the ethical discourses.   In the long years between the Jefferson Bible and he Jesus Seminar, each believer had the resources to do his or her own cut and past job…a personal qurán.  Today we also have multiple English translations which turn the meaning of both red and black letter passages into misleading fluff.

Parting the Red Sea

Those of us who believe in the whole Bible, and not just the passages in red, must none the less acknowledge the inspiration of the red passages.  Normally the ethical discourses are honored as exhortations to charitable acts, this is a benevolent but superficial response to the hard doctrines found in the ethical discourses.  We might picture this  “kindness and good-will interpretation” standing on the Egyptian side of  a Red Sea which must be traversed to get at the deeper meanings declared in Chist’s parables which await like a Promised Land.  This Red Sea, in which we are likely to perish if we don’t march through in good order, is the ethical-literal interpretation.  The depths in which we risk submerging  are the consequence of applying the ethical discourses as standards for normal social life, since they imply the doctrine of non-resistance to evil, a doctrine which, by extension, is in itself evil.

The doctrine of non-resistance to evil is not authentically Christian.  Rather, it is an atheistic doctrine disguised by Christian rhetoric.  It is a look-alike counterfeit of the Golden Rule, which states that one ought to treat others the way that you would wish to be treated yourself.  This is not the same as giving people whatever they want, which is neither just nor always in the best interest of the receiver.  Rather, if you abet someone’s corrupt desire, you are committing, rather than resisting evil.  Indeed, Jesus said and did several things which sounded like he was recommending non-resistance to evil as a general principle, however his immediate intention was to defeat evil.  His non-resistance in certain instances was more of a tactical maneuver, designed so that the powers and principalities of this world would not guess that he was sacrificing himself as an atonement for the sins of the human race.  Of course this is nonsense from the secular, atheistic viewpoint, since for them there can be no such thing as a sacrificial transaction between human beings and God.   For secularists “sacrifice” is a concept within the closed system of human ethics, essentially a zero-sum game.

If human life is a zero-sum game, then the number of ethical options is limited.  One may strive for more at the expense of others, or one may resign from the game.  Schopenhauer and sundry Eastern teachings recommend resignation.  There is a seeming benevolence and nobility in this.  One might also aid the underdog in the struggle, extorting wealth and being extorted until all beings settle down in a sea of level equality.  Although it is seldom stated so baldly, this is the root notion of what we are calling “leftism.”  As an encomium to extortion, the ethical sayings of Jesus, given the appropriate twist, fit perfectly into this program.  Except that they were never intended as such, self-sacrifice being a unique prerogative of the Messiah.

Beyond non-resistance to evil is the ethics of extortion.  Once we have abetted coercion and theft, what difference does it make whether we are the perpetrator or the victim?  A lot, believe me!  None the less, the question needs to be posed in order to understand the psychology of idealists, the mentality of leftism.  The psychology of aggression requires no great feat of interpretation.  But the psychology of those who would do anything to promote an ideal, including self-victimization, is a mystery.  In the mind of the leftist, a world of universal, mutual, extortion and theft would be a fast track to equalization of life conditions for all human beings on Earth.  However we know, from the record of Communist ruled countries, that this in fact never occurs.  Rather, as George Orwell, himself a leftist, bitterly observed “some animals are more equal than others.”

Did Jesus deliver the ethical discourses in order to institute equality of life results among the people of Earth? It would seem that yes, the Jesus the philosopher might have.  However this is a Jesus who lives exclusively in the mind of expositors such as Ernst Renan in the 19th century or the Jesus Seminar in ours.  He is not the Jesus of scripture, the one who said “the poor you shall have with you always” nor the Jesus who said that “not one jot or tittle” would be removed from the Torah, a code which certainly does not endorse equality of life results.

However since the Enlightenment it is the philosophical Jesus who has been admitted into the pantheon of secular saints.   Therefore, we ought to return to the question of whether leftism is a continuation of earlier Christian heresies like the spiritual Franciscans and the political Anabaptists, or whether it is a novelty of post-Enlightenment times.  I have no definitive answer to this question, but if I had to make a hypothesis it would be that power-seeking elites infiltrated the churches with their propagandists, and that part of the propaganda involved turning Christianity into a new religion.  The power seeking elites aimed at extortion, and all they needed was a population which accepted being extorted as an ethical duty.  Suffice to say this post-Enlightenment movement has been wildly successful, as all the political institutions of modernity, from the military draft to taxes on incomes and mandatory schooling to fractional reserve banking and deficit spending are all meritorious examples of rendering up our coats and cloaks on demand.  None dare call it extortion.

All of this would have taken place in the run up to, or the aftermath of, the French Revolution.   About the same time that Thomas Jefferson was busy editing his Bible in America, Schelermacher was editing orthodoxy in Germany.  From now on, religion was to be something one felt, not anything based on clear messages from God.  The ethical discourses had been abstracted as primary, while believers were made mentally incapable of objecting to the resulting theological lacuna. It was these very tendencies, namely, anti-intellectualism combined with an anti-elitism in secret servitude towards elites, which formed the mentality of the early modern left.   Their god was a god who came down from heaven,  commanded altruism, and then left humanity to work out its own salvation…not in fear and trembling, but in extortion and violence.

 

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Conspiracy low and conspiracy high

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 13, 2018

We need a “Critique of Pure Conspiracy”

For all things which are reproved are made manifest by light,
for whatever does make manifest is light (Ephesians 5:13)

What is generally called “conspiracy theory” has undergone a revival of considerable proportions.  Today everyone prides themselves on knowing that “all is not what it seems on the surface.”    This is obvious from the declining trust in public institutions, science, politics, and education.  Of course there never was a time when all was just what it seemed on the surface.  Still, there was indeed a time, and not so long ago, when propaganda systems enjoyed something closer to ubiquity due to the monopoly of broadcast technologies.

Now that everybody on your street (or at least your social media network) is a conspiracy theorist, one might reasonably ask why this hasn’t automatically translated into a free society.  Part of the answer to this question is that there is a whole lot more to establishing, or regaining, a free society than just the dissemination of information.  If there are elites who secretly control the world, they need to be fought, not just talked about.  In fact, there are indications that they enjoy being talked about, and that it fortifies and celebrates their power.

However, while mere information is not sufficient, it is certainly necessary in both great quantity and reasonable quality.  Today we certainly have the quantity, but much of what gets stuffed into that portmanteau phrase “conspiracy theory” is just plain bad.   Perhaps that’s just the way the conspiratorial cookie crumbles, as the mocking skeptics claim.  Or perhaps there is some sort of improvement in method which would at once validate and improve the quality of conspiracy theories.  As quixotic as it might seem, I would like to explore the latter possibility.

Why can’t you Kant?

What if we had a meta-theory of conspiracy theories in general?  It is one thing to support or debunk one or another notion, but are there some generic properties of conspiracy theory that make it vulnerable to skepticism?   Nobody denies that conspiracies, in the dictionary definition of the term, exist.  For example, “racketeering” is a phenomenon well known to forensic and legal science, and it always involves conspiracies in the most general sense.  Yet in our times Conspiracy Theory (yes, often spelled in caps) has become a stereotype.  It is not just a propensity to recognize that two or more persons are liable to combine towards secret and disreputable ends, but the claim that there is an all-inclusive Grand Conspiracy.   It is this this sort of all-inclusive theory which requires a meta-criticism, since  such Grand Conspiracy notions strive not just to understand particular conspiracies, but rather to construct a Theory of Everything (a phrase which gives rise to the quaint acronym TOE).

Contrary to the skeptics, not only do I think that the investigation of conspiracies is a worthy endeavor, but I am not even against a TOE on principle.  In pursuing a TOE, “conspiracy theory” is simply following the same procedure as any scientific paradigm.  All paradigms seek to subsume larger and larger data sets into their theories, and at its ultimate limit this would be a TOE.  However, I am wary of any claim that the TOE has been attained at a single bound, and this is what much of “conspiracy theory” sounds like.  Rather, conspiracy theorists need to arrive at a rational apportionment of their tasks, so that the TOE, when finally arrived at, will be both complete and plausible.

For the historically literate, this notion of an intellectual division of labor has a philosophical precedent in the works of Immanuel Kant.  Far from claiming his legacy, I am a severe critic of that sage of Koningsburg, yet in a notional sense, understanding the radically different ways in which our mind tries to figure out reality is just the right thing for lifting what we call “conspiracy theory” out of the abyss of speculation and into the the light of what used to be called “science”, but we can still claim as wisdom.

The Analysis of Conspiracy Theory: High and Low

Fortunately, conspiracy theory can be pulled apart into that most simple of analyses, a binary pair.  It is quite evident that some conspiracy theory deals with supernatural and paranormal phenomena, and this can be designated “high conspiracy”.  Distinct from this are those conspiracies which involve human actors operating in combination using natural, physical, and social means to conspire.  This can be termed “low conspiracy”.

It is frequently pointed out that the distinction between the supernatural and the natural is itself unnatural.  I agree.  Ultimately we live in a reality which is a continuum ranging from everyday entities like matchsticks and muffins and extending upward to auras and archangels.   Some day when we get our Theory of Everything worked out I am sure it will all prove to be a seamless web, equally natural and (because it is so wonderful) supernatural.  However in the meantime we must face up to what Immanuel Kant termed “the epistemological problem.”  That is to say, the limitations of our Earthly existence limits our knowledge in significant ways.  The knowledge that we have of palpable things is going to be different from the knowledge we have of spirits, and gaining each sort of knowledge requires different methods of investigation.

This is especially relevant when it comes to the understanding of conspiracies.  Conspiracies are, perforce, opaque things, realities towards which we are blind.   Furthermore, this opacity is complicated by the fact that we are dealing with intelligent, willing entities (humans or spirits) who are actively trying to obstruct our attainment of an accurate understanding.  So the task that confronts anyone trying to unravel any given conspiracy, let alone the Grand Conspiracy, is Herculean indeed.  Therefore the first step in making this task manageable needs to be a separation of our two ways of knowing, human and spiritual, or what we have been calling low and high conspiracy theory.

These two departments of theory require very different rules of evidence.  We cannot expect the kind of proof for high conspiracy which we demand of low conspiracy.  High conspiracy rests on faith more than provable assumptions.  Neither can we be so sloppy in our investigation of low conspiracy that we place our faith in every testimony.   Hence our methodology in each department is not just different, but in a sense, opposite.  When we investigate low conspiracy we must be skeptics, but when we turn to the contemplation of high conspiracy we may allow ourselves to be moved by faith and intuition.  I fully expect that some day, in both this world and the next,  these two departments will merge into a single Theory of Everything.  However in the meantime they tend to interfere with each other, and any preemptory synthesis is likely to mangle the testimony of both.

High Conspiracy isn’t for everybody

Not everybody believes in the supernatural.  This is tragic since there are a few things that everybody needs to believe in, notably, that God (as spirit) incarnated in the man Yehushua ben Yosef (as flesh).  For me, that is the bottom line.  However beyond a bare minimum of supernatural facts that everyone must assent to (conveniently summarized in a few creeds of the early church) I would assert that involvement in spiritual affairs is an option, not an obligation.  Even the Apostle Paul, whom we can take as the paragon of a spiritual warrior, saw what I am calling “high conspiracy” as an advanced topic.

For we wrestle not with flesh and blood but against principalities,
against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesisans 6:12)

Note that this was an insight which Paul had acquired by the time he wrote Ephesians, one of his latter “prison epistles” which implies that he already had a great deal of spiritual experiences, perhaps even what we would call experimentation, under his belt.   Yet we know that Paul, prior to writing even his earliest epistles, had a vigorous ministry.  While it would be wrong to say that Paul was ever blissfully ignorant of the forces of evil, still the idea of the political world’s domination by negative spiritual forces, or what we are calling “high conspiracy” was no doubt one of those insights which he had to work out step-by-step, “in fear and trembling.”  Thus we can infer that such wisdom, from Paul’s testimony at least, was and is supplemental to the normal life and faith of believers, let alone non-believers.  If it is too difficult or disturbing, it is best left alone.

I hasten to add that in my own world-view, as for many others, “high conspiracy” is an essential compliment to “low conspiracy” without which the data of my experience simply doesn’t add up.  However, like left and right shoes, things which are complimentary are neither substitutes for, nor identical with, each other.   Because they involve different methods of investigation, “high conspiracy” and “low conspiracy” need to be distinguished, and for some kinds of mentalities, the whole subject of “high conspiracy” should be avoided altogether.  There is no need to scandalize non-believers, or to disturb believers who’s faith is weak.  However we should keep the window of high conspiracy open, waiting for a time when we have better proofs, a time when skeptics will be able to overcome their cognitive dissonance and walk into the integral world of meaning which for us grand theorists is already a grand delight.

How low can you go?  Answer: Every man, woman, and child on deck!

For all things which are reproved are made manifest by light,
for whatever does make manifest is light (Ephesians 5:13)

It can be inferred from Ephesians 5:13, that everyone who is on God’s side should be shining their light in the darkness.  With the small flashlights of our ordinary minds it is hard to light up the heavens, since only the truly anointed with their spiritual searchlights can search the sky.  But our little flashlights should be able to clear up sundry mysteries on even the darkest night, provided we keep them pointed down.  Within those small but intense circles of light we can arrive at substantial conclusions, not speculations.

Please don’t think that I am advocating a false, foot-shuffling, humility or recommending preoccupation with safe and trivial matters.  Rather, I am sure you have already figured out that in the present context “high” has not been drawn from traditional usage, where “high conspiracy” once referred to courtly plots by princes and ambassadors (e.g., The Prisoner of Zenda), as opposed to the “low” of vulgar criminal gangs (e.g.,Ocean’s Eleven).  Likewise, here “low” refers to all activities down here on the surface of planet Earth, even if it involves countesses and caviar, bracketing out the influence of both Heaven and Hell.  Moreover, this “bracketing out” is a purely methodological principle, one which is not intended to deny the existence of transcendental realms.  However it is an essential measure, one which must be endured if we are to obtain initial clarity about any Earthly conspiracy.

In separating higher from lower, we not only avoid a lot of bad thinking, but we separate the Earthling from all claims to conscientious objector status in the war for the world.  In  the mind of a religious person, establishing the demonic origin of human malfeasance solidifies the assumption of evil, but to secular ears it sounds sufficiently like “the devil made them do it” to put legions of apathetic skeptics to sleep.  None the less, the secularist will normally abhor all the evil things that the believer witnesses to on Earth, namely murder, theft, fraud, addiction, lies, hatred, rape, slander, scapegoating and much else.  Yet in the mind of the secularist these evils are of purely human origin.   Be that as it may, as humans pledged to any sort of benevolent ethic, and moreover citizens of a particular community, the righteous secularist (no doubt endowed with an unacknowledged common grace) is obligated to inquire and to blow the whistle if and when the moral order of society has been subverted by sinister forces.

Two sets of rules

While “high conspiracy” theory can be synthetic and inclusive, “low conspiracy” theory must be analytic and exclusive.  Viewed from another angle, the latter must adhere to Popper’s principle of falsification.  It must be possible for the conspirators to be found guilty rather than innocent.  Hence, when the weight of data points to guilt, we can be satisfied that the outcome was evidence-based and not the formation of an appealing gestalt or some sort of confirmation bias.

With “high conspiracy” this kind of falsification is impossible, since we are taking an eagle eye’s view of the world as a whole, and the we are not at liberty (whatever progressives might think) to recreate the world.  It is the whole puzzle with all the pieces locked in place.  We can take the Book of Revelation as the best example.  The scripture itself is God-breathed and outside of time, therefore the events will never change, although we may arrive at a deeper understanding of the events through interpretation.  However when we look at a particular event or epoch in secular history, we only are viewing one particular corner of the world-puzzle.  This makes us less knowledgeable, our ignorant “low” as against an omniscient “high”…but it also gives us more freedom.  It will be possible for us to move pieces of the puzzle around to different locations, keeping the outcome in doubt until just the right fit is found and the outcome is locked in.

This freedom and confidence derives from the very strictures imposed on our investigations.  I can’t make an exhaustive list of these strictures, but there is no need to, since they correspond largely to what we assume whenever we deal with everyday, common-sense, reality.  Generally speaking, all of our investigative procedures must conform to the  constraints of time, space, and corporal existence.  For example, the same entity cannot located in two places at the same time.  Likewise, the causes of things must exist prior to their effects, albeit in various senses depending on whether we are dealing with efficient (mechanical) or teleological (planning) causes.  The fact that low conspiracies must be embedded in time, space, and corporal existence means that it should be possible to establish a chain of evidence for the deeds of the conspirators.

No, I am not saying that in the ultimate scheme of things these unities of time, space and corporal existence are absolutes.  Even without resorting to spiritual witnesses, consider physics, where quantum theory violates these strictures all the time.  However from the point of view of an investigator into low conspiracy, these violations of natural law lie on the other side of the division of labor.  For example, suppose we have a book containing records of great import which suddenly disappear from their repository, hindering the investigation of the conspiracy.  Of course, the book could have been translated into a different dimension through the agency of a demon or an angel.  I don’t deny that such a thing might occur.  However the investigator into low conspiracy would be in dereliction of their duty if this were their first assumption.  Rather, such an investigator has an obligation to explore every possible explanation for the disappearance which does not violate the unities of time, space and corporal existence.  If this avenue is pursued all the way to the bitter end, either the investigator will bag the conspiracy or the whole process will be revealed as a snark hunt.  It may be that during the process of investigation certain anomalies will crop up with rare persistence.  If so they should be noted and turned over to courts of high conspiracy theory.  However the work of the low conspiracy investigator is at an end.

In Conclusion

One should always provide concrete examples.  Our example of a Theory of Everything (TOE) is the Book of Revelations delivered to the Apostle John on the isle of Patmos.  For an example of a limited conspiracy amenable to empirical investigation, pick anything smaller than the universe.  In a future post I hope, God willing, to turn my attention to a really big (though low) conspiracy of the 20th century which still affects our intellectual climate today.  However the contemporary political world is smaller, stupider, and especially more vulgar…even worse than the 20th century, if such a thing is possible.   Unfortunately if I had to pick the most celebrated conspiracy de jour it would have be the Muller investigation into the present administration’s alleged conspiratorial  ties to Russia.  It is hard to call this a limited investigation, since it seems to have no limits of time or subject, none the less it is “low” in the sense that we have been using here.  Or is the Muller investigation itself a conspiracy?  I will leave that question to the discretion of Senator Gowdy and his colleagues.

All I want to say is that people should avoid calling Special Prosecutor Muller the Antichrist.  No doubt this will be a very satisfactory tie in to a Theory of Everything for some aspiring investigator into high conspiracy.  However the temptation should be resisted.  Speaking personally, if it does indeed turn out that Robert Muller is the Antichrist at the end of time…I’m walking out of the theater and asking God for my money back.

 

There’s conspiracy low and conspiracy high
and often the twain shall meet.
If  there neither were higher nor lower at all
it would indicate something akin to deceit.
Yet in spite of much evidence
lower and higher
the hawker of theory still sinks in the mire

(from “Counterindicators”-by M.R.S.)

Posted in Christianity, Conspriacy Theory, Constitution, Constitutionalism, culture, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, Law, Media, Politics, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The mob above and the mob below

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 31, 2017

Why don’t we act like human beings?….well, actually…

Ralph Adams Cram’s 1932 essay “Why Don’t We Act Like Human Beings?” created a major sensation in its time.  Cram’s answer “because most of us are not!” was decried as elitist during that historical moment of rising populist resentment against the upper crust.  Cram was simply saying that if we frame the quintessentially human according to the inspiring heroes and saints who emerge periodically from the mass of the human gene pool most of us fail lamentably.  Or today we might say “deplorably.”

Cram probably thought of himself as one of the authentic representatives of the species.  From the retrospect of today, it is important to realize that Cram wasn’t talking about any particular group being racially or genetically superior.  Although in the 1930s there were many movements of that ilk, Cram was not talking about the superiority of one group over others, but rather the superior humanity of special individuals over and against all groups, including that into which he or she was born.  He postulated that  a “true human” was just an atavism thrust up on rare occasion from the mass of bipedal hominids.

Perhaps Cram arrived at this notion because he was a very intellectual man who embedded his most beautiful thoughts in stone, notably in Gothic cathedrals.   Because this was a new style for America, it met resistance.  Though historically an old style, it was hard for the crowd on the street to look up and appreciate Cram’s new/old style.    It must have caused a man of Cram’s sensibilities great pain to see the vulgar masses mock his works.  Hence his individualism became tinged with bitterness.

Cram’s relegation of vulgar humanity to sub-human status may be extreme, yet elitism, or perhaps contempt of non-elites , endured through and beyond the populism of the 1930s precisely because it keyed into a primal motif of all human endeavor, to rise above the crowd.  If we come from humble beginnings, we want to make more of ourselves, to rise to the surface of the human pool.  And there is an additional factor, for in addition to contempt there is actual fear.  The crowd is not just crowd, it is a potential mob.  If vulgarity is less than human, doesn’t  any gravitation back to our vulgar roots in Old Adam threaten not just our life prospects but our very humanity itself?  If the vulgar classes fall short of humanity, salvation lies in our own improvement, economic improvement, educational improvement, and social improvement.  It is a salvation for which we must heroically struggle until we have passed from the desert of vulgarity into the Promised Land of the elites.

Yet even if, perchance, we arrive in the Promised Land of elite society we may find the inhabitants uncongenial.  Like Joshua, Caleb, and the other spies sent out by Moses we soon discover that giants have occupied the territory.   These giants are likely to concur with Ralph Adams Cram’s idea, that the sub-elites are also sub-human, or they may, along the lines suggested by Frederick Nietzsche  consider the masses “mere humans” and themselves to be super-human.  The nomenclature is different but the meaning is the same.  The elites are gods, the masses are animals.  Or so say the elites.

Now, as dangerous as many animals can be, if you are going to get into the fight with someone…far better a dumb animal than a god.  The pagans indulged the gods, and worshiped them.  In Greek, these superhuman beings were called daemons, forces to be reckoned with for good or ill.  A daemon might possess a man or a woman, perchance turning him or her into a creative genius (genius being the latin equivalent of Greek daemon)…or perchance driving them mad.  With the coming of the Gospel these spirits lost much of their respect, and were hence referred to in a derogatory manner, as reflected in our English word “demon.”

Cram and Christ

Strangely enough (or perhaps not strange, since Cram claimed to be a Christian) the idea of the sub-human human finds an antecedent in Christ.  Christ’s love for all people was not predicated on any illusions about innate human nobility.  Like Cram, Christ saw that most humans are fools, and this foolishness is amplified wherever they are grouped together in crowds.  Jesus would never dehumanize anyone, but he is the ultimate originator of our contemporary term,  “the sheeple” which we use for the masses when they blindly follow their leaders.  Yet Jesus used the analogy of sheep in a compassionate manner.  Since most people can neither think on their own or stand their moral ground, they take refuge under the authority (moral, political, or educational) of some strong man or woman who may be likened to a “shepherd.”   This is a very rational system, whereby responsibility and power is delegated upward to those who can handle authority.  However it has a fatal defect.  The powerful are either corrupt from the beginning or tend towards corruption over time.  Hence they are likely to use their wards in a cunning and exploitative fashion.  What starts off as rational delegation of authority tends to wind up as a protection racket.  Jesus likened this to wolves devouring sheep.

It is important to understand that Jesus was just using these words, words like sheep and wolves as types for human tendencies.  He didn’t literally mean that people have four legs, woolly hides etc..  Likewise I don’t think that Cram really thought that the common citizens of America were of a different species, just that they didn’t have the heroic characteristics we normally associate with human exemplars.  Neither do the elites, even if they have publicity agents paid to make us think otherwise.

In fact, when the elites gang together as a mob they are far more dangerous than any vulgar crowd.  This is something that most people, in their search for upward mobility, are apt to forget.  The “rulers of this world” are not kind people, they have colluded to build a system which benefits themselves and themselves only.  To this end they have provided us with a history, institutions, and a culture which bind together society, making common cause with the most vulgar of the vulgar in order to empower the topmost of the topmost.   In the Gospel we have the classical illustration of this.  It is the elites who conspire to kill Christ, using the vulgar crowd to shout “Give us Barrabbas!”

While populists fail to appreciate the vulgarity of the crowd, libertarians and individualists are often blind to the dangers of elites.  The anthropological elitism of Ralph Adams Cram is an exaggerated instance of elite-worship.  He rightly rejected the sub-humanity of much popular culture and social behavior.  Yet his worship of a supra-humanity was misplaced.  Cram was certainly heroic himself, and in many ways closer in spirit to Ayn Rand’s  character Howard Roark than the modernist Frank Lloyd Wright.  Many have taken this fictional character as a touchstone of success and integrity, supposing that any criticism of heroic endeavor is a criticism of the basic human drive towards prosperity and success.

However we must separate out the goodness of success and riches from the perils of power.  Once again, Christ is a better guide than Cram.  While the vulgar are sinful, their sin has a ready antidote in exhortation and edification.  They are down, but they can be lifted up.  But what of those who (at least in their own eyes) are “up”?  What about those who are in the process of becoming gods….gods without godlyness?  This is perilous indeed.

We must also guard against the perversion of Christianity into tyranny.  While Christ said “the poor you shall always have with you” he didn’t mean that the Church should turn this into a self-fulfilling prophecy by making a virtue of poverty.  Christ used the words “rulers” and “the rich” interchangeably, so one must be careful to distinguish prosperity (good) from oppression (bad).  It is not wealth itself which is bad, but those who use wealth and power as a means of social control who are subject to Christ’s condemnation.

Indeed, the “gods” are more dangerous than the “animals” and that on two counts.  First, they are more dangerous to society, because “society” is actually their creature.  What we call “society” is what the Bible calls “the world.”  The world would be no better if it were controlled by the masses, but in fact it is controlled by the elites, sometimes directly but more often through manipulation of the masses.

Second, the gods are dangerous to themselves.  They are most dangerous when they are successful, but sometimes they fail, to their own salvation.  As Christ said, “With God all things are possible.”  So in conclusion we may concur with Ralph Adams Cram, short of anthropological literalism, concerning the inhumanity of the vulgar.  However it is not the only inhumanity that we must confront, nor is it the most compelling.

 

Posted in Anthropology, Architecture, Art, Christianity, Culture & Politics, History, Movies, Philosophy, Politics, Ralph Adams Cram, Theology, Traditionalism | Leave a Comment »

Three possible anthropologies: the Man, the Crowd, or the Battlefield

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 13, 2017

Christ, Durkheim, Marx

There are only three anthropologies (and here by an “anthropology” I mean what most people would call a “world-view”) which remain possible for the West as it vanishes into post-modernity 1)Christianity, 2)Positivism, and 3)Marxism.  It is not a choice between three men, since two of them, by their own admission, are dead.  It is a choice between one living man and two systems struggling for the loyalty of the world.  These three are irreconcilable, yet those people who once prided themselves, whatever their background, as “children of the West” generally tried, with varying degrees of success, to mix the three principles.  Here I just want to sketch their differences and send the reader off on a rewarding path of future research.  I think this is an important course correction for conservatives, since I have noticed that Marxism has come under under a more than sufficient amount of criticism.  I say amount rather than degree of criticism, since the depth of Marxian evil is difficult to overestimate.  However Marxism didn’t just break into the sanctuary of Western thought like a thief, carrying away the chalice of impeccable philosophy.   Long before the barbarians broke through the gates, the capitalist West had yoked itself to an ideology which was more than sufficient to destroy religion and morality.

That ideology was, and remains, the Positivism of Auguste Compte and his disciple Emile Durkheim.  Today Positivism is buffeted by the scathing winds of post-Modernity, and the uncritical observer might presume that its supporters had dwindled to a deplorable basket of geeks and nerds, eking out a troglodyte existence in the basements of Engineering departments and Physics laboratories, while pathetically awaiting replacement by their own robotic creations.  Yet while mechanistic materialism remains a distinctive legacy of Positivism, its influence within the social sciences is far more alive and important today, for it continues to shape the moral presuppositions of many who consider themselves sober, mainstream thinkers…even self-described conservatives.  And while the physical philosophy of Positivism has been outflanked by quantum theory, its sociology has only been enhanced by bureaucratic globalism.

When we hear the word “collectivism” we are apt to think of Karl Marx and his disciples, and in a rhetorical sense both the friends and foes of Communism have gotten a lot of mileage out of the term.  However it is Positivism, not Marxism, which has been the major source of Western collectivist ideology since the early 19th century.  It is Positivism, not Marx, which replaced God with Society as the ultimate object of fear, concern, and worship.  We must at least credit Marx with intellectual consistency, since he recognized that God was irreplaceable and that respect for anything, be it Human Society, the Earth, the Moon, or the Cow that jumped over it, would soon go out of vogue among a population of convinced atheists.

Positivism is nothing if not respectful.  We can briefly pass over the career of August Compte, since the man was a hopeless lunatic.  Most atheistic conservatives, while craving order and respect, are unwilling to enlist in an organized “Religion of Humanity” with an actual atheist pope (as per Compte himself!) or ritual postures of adoration towards women (theoretically, as the respected “bearers of Humanity” but in practice, Compte’s mistress playing the Virgin!).  Even gender feminism hasn’t quite gotten to demanding that!  Atheists, on the whole, just want to get rid of God, they don’t want an atheist church preaching morality and sentimentality.  They may, some future day, be coerced into joining something like an atheistic church, but they won’t join one voluntarily, as per Compte’s abortive experiment.  This is significant.

A generation after Compte, in order to divest Positivist ideology from its ridiculous cocoon of pseudo-Catholic ritualism,  Emile Durkheim founded the modern discipline of Sociology as a (supposedly) objective line of academic  inquiry.  Yet the core ideology, that religion is “Society worshiping itself” remained the guiding principle of this modernized Positivism.  This is the ideology of the group-mind, an ideology which no longer is likely to absorb the world into an atheistic variant of the Jesuit-Catholic church (in spite of the efforts of the present pope!) but which is implicit in the modern network of banks, bureaucrats, and the modern media.

Durkeheim saw 19th century society slouching towards what he termed an “organic” society.  In a surprising reversal of the usual technical nomenclature, he described traditional societies as “mechanical.”  In other words, they were societies which were built up of homogeneous blocks, families grouping together with similarly structured families to form communities, tribes grouping together with similarly structured tribes to form nations.  In contrast to this building block world, modern society is based on functionally different groups interlocking with each other to form wholes, much like an organism.  Thus the modern bond of social solidarity is actually stronger and more permanent than the traditional versions.  Tribe A and tribe B can separate (secession) but industry or profession A cannot separate from industry or profession B without collapsing the interdependent system.  Hence, whatever your feelings about today’s processed foods, modern society is intrinsically “organic” in Durkheim’s scheme of things.

From a Positivist point of view, even in lieu of a formal “Religion of Humanity” this increasing interdependence should create ever deepening harmony and unity of mind, albeit one person’s harmony and unity of mind is another person’s tyranny and death.  Dream or nightmare?  It largely depends on what one thinks about individual sovereignty in contrast to the efficiency of ever expanding spheres of collective responsibility.  For the collectivist, there is a spiritual release in surrendering the individual ego to the will of the crowd.

Marx, no lover of the individual, none the less thought he saw a flaw in the Positivist program.  Anti-religious to the core, the pseudo-Catholic regalia of early Positivism spurred him to ridicule.  Marx didn’t want to worship society, he wanted to destroy it, and replace it with something better.  He reasoned, correctly, that society, conceived as an aggregated whole, was illusory.  For Marx classes were the actualities lurking under the mask of “society.”  However Marx didn’t protest against one abstraction only to replace it with another, for he knew that “class” was just as much a mutable phantom as “society.”  Rather, the core of human reality, according to Marx, was conflict, an idea which he found robustly confirmed in the works of Darwin.  Love and harmony among or within a class or classes was not the object.  The object was war, class war.  For Marx there is no such thing as humanity in the abstract, there is only a battlefield called human history.

Can you see the trap into which the conservative, the moderate, the well wisher of humanity is likely to fall?  Sober and sensitive minds will exclaim, “Surely we cannot allow chaos to reign, we must return to order and harmony!”  Surely, but how?  “We must not let particular class-interests guide our actions, we must do everything for the good of society as a whole!”  Really?  But what is society?  It is a ghost, an abstraction…in short, it doesn’t exist!  None the less, this phantom of the social god, first hatched in the lunatic mind of Compte, has been clothed in scientific legitimacy since the time of Durkheim.  Today’s college graduates assume that society is a reality, and that it obliges us to do something, ether for it (conservative) or to it (radical).

Anyone who is seriously opposed to collectivism must recognize that collectivism antedates Marxism, and moreover that Marxism is a reaction to the collectivist notions of Positivist social science.  These two systems, Marxism and Positivism, are both hostile and irreconcilable.  None the less they reinforce each other, order breeding chaos and chaos breeding order.  Is there no way out of this ring of fire?

Well, here is a hint towards the way out.  Readers of my essays know that I am always talking about something called “anthropology” and that this “anthropology” means something very different from what most people think.  Neither Marxism nor Positivism have use for anthropology in this special sense, although they both recognize that there is an anthropoid species homo sapiens, which has somehow or other gotten control of affairs on planet Earth.  Hitherto this dominance over the planet has just been due to chance and good luck.  But now a self-conscious elite of planners is ready to take control.  For Positivists the planners are social scientists, for Marxists the planners are revolutionary agitators.  For the time being these planners are, or seem to be, members of the human species, but this is not essential.  In the future they may be machines, or spirits, or space aliens.  From a scientific perspective (either Marxist or Positivist) it doesn’t particularly matter, as long as someone is in control.

However there is also a third way, the way of Christianity, which is a genuinely anthropological way.  A hint that Christianity might not just be “a” way, but actually “the” way, is the manner in which it solves the problem of love.  In Christianity love is not just an abstract humanitarianism, it is manifest in the special love of individuals for other individuals.  From the point of view of both Positivism and Marxism, special love-relationships seem narrow and privileged.  Even humanitarianism must give way to love for the Earth, and ultimately the Universe.  The individual, from the point of view of Positivist science, is a small affair, and liable to be sacrificed on the alter of the greater good.  From the point of view of Marxism, the individual may be unknowingly evil or heroic, depending on where their fortunes fall in the bloody wars of the historical dialectic.  Only in Christianity is the individual, not just the species, conceived as the image of God.

This Christian view of the individual, as image-bearer, is attractive to many people who aren’t even professing Christians.  Indeed, the image-theory lingers in the minds of many who profess various scientific or revolutionary creeds, softening morals and manners, and making their adherence to Positivist or Marxist in-humanism inconsistent.  This phenomenon is what Alexander Soltzhenitsyn called “…the ever diminishing social capital inherited by the West from the Gospel.”  Today we are down to our last pennies.  To replenish that capital would require a revival, a return to the belief which engendered all the humane consequences of the Christian world-view.

Modern common sense tells us that anthropology (humanity) is included within ontology (the universe), not the other way around.  Whatever their disagreements Positivism and Marxism are of one accord in rejecting any special status for humanity in the cosmos.  There is no King except the momentary “king on the hill” of survival.  Therefore, as much as people might wish to return to the Christian world-view in order to experience the ethical benefits of living in a Christian society, there is a stumbling block which bars the way.  That stumbling block is a seeming absurdity.  In Christianity the divine essence incarnates in an individual, the individual saves the species, and the species saves the universe.  Why, this is virtually Darwin stood on his head!  Instead of mankind being inside the universe, the universe is, so to speak, inside a Man.  Most people find this grossly insulting to their common sense.  Rather, the Earthling is more willing to render assent to Carl Sagan’s expression “We are star-stuff.”  Better a lonely, dead universe, which can somehow be rendered romantic through poetry, than to risk a “leap of faith.”

Only those “in Christ” are likely to see the sanity of the alternative.

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Christian Education, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, History, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Human Action as a treatise on Philosophical Anthropology

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 4, 2017

Human Action;  It’s not your college “Economics”…but what is it?

Anyone with even the slightest acquaintance with the works of Ludwig von Mises knows that, while his works deal with economics, his thought is distinguished by what might be called,  misleadingly, a “multidisciplinary” approach.  I say misleading because Mises doesn’t just wander into various fields of history and policy at random.  Rather, at least in his magnum opus, Human Action, von Mises bases his exposition of economics and other social phenomena on a level of abstraction far too general to be circumscribed within one particular field of the social, or better said, the human sciences.  Even the term “science” here is somewhat suspect as importing all sorts of positivist notions regarding predictability, measurability, and so forth.  Perhaps “human studies” is the broadest description of areas which Mises was wont to involve himself in.  If we were to find a single word equivalent to “human studies” then certainly Anthropology would be the most apt substitute.  Yet nobody calls Human Action a work of Anthropology.  Why?

Superficially, this is because Mises takes an implicit understanding of Classical Christian anthropology and develops it in the direction of what we call “economics.”  More fundamentally, it is because few people today would even recognize Classical Christian anthropology, especially when it manifests itself in the work of an author who neither professed Christianity nor was writing explicitly on anthropology.  After all, von Mises embraced all sorts of moral and intellectual tenants which comport poorly with the classical Christian world-view, such as evolution and (fortunately, non-quantifiable!) utilitarianism.  None the less, because von Mises was part of the broader Judeo-Christian tradition, the bedrock of Christian Anthropology frequently breaks through the surface exposition of his putative “economic” treatise.  However, you won’t see it if you don’t know what to look for, and it doesn’t help that this classical, or Christian, anthropology goes against the very grain of Modernist and Post-Modernist “common sense.”

While in most Modernist views the human race is little more than the end result of myriad material causes, in classical Christian anthropology, “Man” in the sense of a singular “Anthropos” is the principle behind the universe, from which, as “Word” or “Logos” all other realities proceed.  The entire framework of this classical anthropology can be summarized as a movement through four terms, as follows:  From the Anthropos proceeds the individual, from the individual proceeds the species, from the species proceed groups.  Elsewhere I will try to explicate the framework in more detail, here I want to show how it is manifested in such an unlikely place as von Mises’ treatise, Human Action.

Again, I don’t want to make von Mises into some sort of Christianizing Platonist, or deny that much of the content of Human Action is based on Neo-Kantian or utilitarian principles which are alien to the basic framework.  None the less, the classical framework manifests itself in the very organization of the work, as can be seen from the arrangement of the contents.  The organization of the work in seven parts actually can be reduced to four themes.  I have highlighted the ontological/anthropological categories which Mises seems to have in mind at the right hand column.

I. The ideal

  1. Action as human essence         pt. 1            Anthropos–>Individual
  2.  Society                                         pt.2            Species–> Groups
  3. Individual exchange                 pt. 3             Anthropos–> Individual
  4. Market                                        pt. 4           Species–> Groups
  • The pathology, collectivism pt. 5              Groups–>Individual
  • attempts to compromise the ideal and pathology  pt. 6
    • History                              pt. 7

Structure of Human Action itself points the reader in the direction of methodological individualism.  You should be able to see the topical movement from essence, to individual, to species to group, repeated twice.

It may be that this organizational structure is not to be taken literally as von Mises’ last word on the ontological place of humanity within the universe.  It may even be that this organization was just the way von Mises thought a primary treatise on human action should be properly structured, somewhat like the scholars of the middle ages who felt that all treatises should be arranged according to the framework of Peter the Lombard, whether or not they agreed with Peter’s content or not.  None the less the framework bears the imprint of the classical Anthropological model, and testifies to  that model’s ubiquity and importance.  Certainly it differs from standard modernist and positivist expositions, which are based on the framework “from matter proceeds things.” This latter being what your man or woman on the street thinks of as “economics.”

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An Epistle at the apex: Paul and the the Biblical basis of Libertarianism

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 15, 2017

From Turtles to Principles

You have probably heard the story of that old woman who insisted the Earth rested on the back of an enormous turtle.  If queried what the turtle rested on, she would respond, logically enough, “Another turtle.”  However if a persistent questioner asked what, in turn, the second turtle rested upon, she would laugh derisively, “Sonny, it’s turtles all the way down!”

This infinite regress of turtles is akin to the view that many Christian libertarians and constitutionalists share with regard to “the charter of our liberties.”  Now rest assured that I consider this to be the enlightened view with regard to the origin of human rights, that “We are endowed by our creator….” and that the contents of this endowment has not been left to the vague recollection of tacit understandings, but rather, made clear in major historical documents which have spelled out the liberties of free men and women without prevarication or ambiguity.  I applaud my fellow freedom lovers who have embraced the theory that the natural rights made explicit in  human covenants is founded on the will and ways of God.

None the less, it seems to me that there is a gap in the understanding of most libertarians, even among those who profess Christianity in one form or another.  On the one hand, freedom is said to be founded on the basis of a “Judeo-Christian ethos.”  On the other hand, the content of this ethos is held to have been been specified by such major documents as the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Constitution of the United States of America (1787), and the Bill of Rights (1791).  These are sometimes called “founding documents” but in fact they represent the fruits of a tradition, not an origin.  Now what was the immediate inspiration of these documents?   This is well understood and well researched, and we can trace what F.A. Hayek called “the constitution of liberty” back step by step through the Whig Revolution, the English Civil War, the conflict between King John, the great barons and the church, and even into the misty years subsequent to the Norman Conquest.  Each of these epochs left a deposit of law in the form of written covenants, of which the Magna Carta (1215)is only the most famous.

However if we ask, “What is the ultimate (not immediate) origin of the Bill of Rights, etc.” we come up against a situation similar to that infinite regress of turtles which are needed to support the Earth.  All we get is a string of documents which leads back from the Magna Carta to the Norman Conquest and then, for a combination of linguistic and documentary reasons, stops.  Beyond that where do the precedents come from?  On the one hand, there are those who hypothesize a kind of Anglo-Saxon democracy as the matrix from which both political liberty and common law sprang.  On the other, there are those, such as Hayek himself, who wish to tie the British tradition of liberty back to the classical political philosophy of Cicero, Stoicism etc..  Keep in mind that Hayek was an evolutionist, albeit more of concerned with cultural than a biological evolution.

On the other hand there are Christians who state that the series of freedom covenants published in the course of British and American history have their ultimate root in the “Judeo-Christian ethos.”  However the “Judeo-Christian ethos” does not constitute the first item in a series of written documents.  It is indeed a case of “turtles all the way down” where “down” is not the true bottom or rather a quasi-bottom begging for further explanation.  Of course, Christians are in possession of a document which provides them with written warrant for thought and action, and it happens to be called the Bible. Note the irony of the ambiguous “Judeo-Christian ethic” being promoted as a basis of politics and rights theory by the same Christians who would insist on a scriptural warrant for any issues outside of politics.  It would seem that there is a special fear of becoming excessively scriptural when it comes to the Biblical foundations of politics.

And as a matter of fact, this fear is well founded.  For there are at least two deviations into scriptural politics which are likely to have catastrophic results, if indeed they are not outright heretical.  I will give a capsule critique of these theological tendencies before moving on to what I consider the true scriptural basis of politics.

Bad Axioms: The Violent Bear It Away

In our search for the axiomatic we don’t want to endorse the catastrophic!   Humanity is always looking for a principle to predicate its violence upon, a “causus belli” as it were.  Marxism is the best contemporary example, though there be others.  Those sects within the church which have been unknowingly or knowingly coaxed by Marxism into a united front frequently march under the banner of “New Testament Christianity.”  In this context, “New Testament” means up to and excluding the cross.  It is the moral teaching to, and subsequently of, the twelve disciples, led by Peter. I don’t think it is putting too fine a point on this teaching to characterize it as perfectionism and communism.  It was a teaching appropriate to those who were striving after moral purity to separate themselves from an apostate Judaism, along lines similar to John the Baptist, or the Essene community at Qumran.   After the cross these teachings were replaced by the gospel.  Though they remain edifying and historically important narratives, they are not Christianity, at least, they are not the heart of Christianity.

However these teachings, perfectionism and communism, are useful for those who seek to sow confusion among Christians.  The virtue of these principles, for Marxists and other enemies of the cross, is that they don’t work, thus their adoption gives people the impression that Christians are not a church but as a camp of confused idealists. This vast camp of deluded Christians, who are not just those at the fringe of “liberation” theology so-called, but the majority of those within the mainstream denominations, are no doubt earnest in their desire to put their politics on a Biblical basis.  Unfortunately they have wrongly divided scripture, not realizing that, in truth, much of the so-called “New Testament” is in fact a continuation of the Old Testament, that the four evangelical witnesses which we call “gospels” are historical and biographical narratives which are only a preface to the Gospel of Grace proclaimed in the letters of Paul, this latter being the only operative gospel for our age.

At the other extreme from “Liberation theology”, there are genuine Christians who fuse together New and Old Testaments into a single covenant theology.  When this is applied with great rigor, the result is a rigidly legalistic system, such as was classically illustrated by Calvin’s Geneva, or the early Massachusetts Bay colony.  Unlike Marxist-inspired theology this covenant view is not a deception, but an honest error.  None the less, it is an error which has burdened and oppressed people in the past, and is likely to do so in the future, if there is any chance of its adoption.  No, we cannot go back to Moses.  Not that Moses is to be despised, for we are edified by the history of Israel.  But to treat Moses as a living letter of law is a misapplication of scripture, and inimical to the true gospel, just as Paul explained to the church in Galatia.   It is to Paul whom we must now turn.

The Pauline Basis of Christian Libertarianism

The way to make progress in ethics is through more geometrico, the much abused and needlessly feared geometrical method.  That is, in morals we ought to start with an axiom and end up with a body of legislation.  What we are offered today is, by and large, the reverse, since we begin with one or another collection of precepts in bad need of simplification and adaptation.  The precepts might alternatively be “the Judeo-Christian ethic” or New Testament theology, or the Mosaic code.  In all such systems the starting point is vague, complicated, and casuistic.  Now, reasoning out cases (casuistry) is a good and very necessary thing, but it should come at the end of a process of deduction, not at the beginning.

Fortunately, scripture is true to its word and provides us with the axioms necessary, not just for our salvation, but for organizing our societies.  The tendency towards axiomatic thinking is evident even in the pre-resurrection teachings of the Savior.  Christ’s willingness to group the precepts of the law into a hierarchy, with the law of love at the apex, contrasts sharply with the predominant rabbinical teachings on the law.  According to the rabbis each of the precepts stood on its own merit, without need of justification by any higher principle.  Conversely, a constant theme of Christ’s teaching was to point out how these independent precepts, if taken literally, would lead to rote behavior drained of empathy for one’s fellow creatures.  This early teaching to the disciples, as noted above, was not Christ’s authoritative message  to the church, which would commence on the road to Emmaus  and climax on the road to Damascus.  However the former teaching was prophetic in the broadest sense, not as prognostication but as propaedieutic, i.e., a kind of introduction.  It was hinting that Christian ethics, unlike rabbinical tradition, would be fundamentally axiomatic rather than casuistic.

The Apostle Paul is the primary revelator and redactor of church truth.  If we search his letters we are sure to find, among many other treasures, the key axiom upon which the organization of a godly society depends.  This axiom is found in a few verses within the most controversial and difficult chapters in the entire Bible, the 13th chapter of the book of Romans.  Now I realize that the very mention of Romans 13 is enough to cause alarm among Christian libertarians, and it is true that this is a portion of scripture which has been notoriously wrested into a shape cut to the specifications of tyrants.  However this reading, which we may designate as the authoritarian reading of Romans 13, I believe to be profoundly in error.

On the contrary, it is Romans Chapter 13 which, read aright, contains the authoritative formulation of the non-aggression axiom.  I am not aware that this has been previously noted, even by commentators who are generally considered sympathetic to libertarianism.  Generally, commentators are mainly interested in soterological issues, therefore those portions of scripture dealing with civil society, like Romans Chapter 13, are passed over without extended comment, except to note that obedience to legitimate governance is enjoined.  Few have done entire commentaries where the primary focus is on politics, economics, or civil society.  One exception is Dr. Gary North, who has written an Economic Commentary on Romans.  Yet even Dr. North who’s  quasi-libertarian views are well known, veers off from the fundamental moral issues discussed in Romans 13, in order to pursue some rather technical observations on the morality of debt, to the exclusion of other considerations.  His commentary on the heart of Romans 13, which are found in verses 8 through 10, is worth reading, if only to note its extremely narrow approach to the content of the epistle.

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” John Murray does not think that love is an obligation. Rather, the sense of the passage is this: “Owe no man any thing, only love one another.” “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” But what does this mean? Does it mean that dealing with others justly is the way that we should demonstrate our love toward them? Or does it mean that loving them fulfills the law? Which law? Moses’ law? Christ’s law?

Paul says which law: the Mosaic. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The summary follows the Septuagint’s translation of Deuteronomy 5:17-21.The final clause is based on Leviticus: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:18). Here is the same theme as the one Paul introduced in the previous chapter: no personal vengeance. Christ used a similar approach in his summary of the Mosaic law. “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 19:16-19).

Love is mandatory, Murray writes. “If love is the fulfillment of the law this means that no law is fulfilled apart from love. . . . It is only through love that we can fulfill the demands of justice.”Murray places the decalogue, and through it, the Mosaic law, at the heart of Paul’s injunction. “This appeal to the decalogue demonstrates the following propositions: (1) the decalogue is of permanent and abiding relevance. (2) It exemplifies the law that love fulfills and is therefore correlative with love. (3) The commandments and their binding obligation do not interfere with the exercise of love; there is no incompatibility. (4) The commandments are the norms in accordance with which love operates.”

The closest that North (here following, rather surprisingly, Murray) gets to the non-aggression axiom is his observation on the prohibition of vengeance.  Murray, North, et al, are wrong to think that Paul is endorsing the Mosaic law, although as covenant theologians we ought not to be surprised that they follow this line.  Rather, Paul is using elements of the decalogue the same way that an artist would use pigments of primary colors to paint an entirely new composition.  Romans 13 vv. 8-10 is not just a rehashing of Moses, rather, it is an entirely new revelation establishing human relations on the firm foundation of the non-aggression axiom.

In order to come to an understanding that Romans 13 is nothing less than the divine promulgation of the non-aggression axiom, it is helpful to divide the chapter into three portions.  I. 13:1-7 on civil governance, II. 13:8-10, the non-aggression axiom, III.13:11-14 provision for the coming of the Lord.  Although most readers of the scriptures read sequentially, which in the case of Romans 13 leads to highlighting the section on civil governance, as if it were the topic paragraph of an essay, an alternative method sometimes used by discerning Bible students is to structure the passage according to its “chiastic” pattern.  According to this method, the key elements in a Bible passage are liable to be found in the center of the reading, with the former and latter verses forming mirror images around a core concept.  Thus in the case of Romans 13, we would have the pattern,

I. 13:1-7 human governance ( duties towards civil magistrates)

               II. 13:8-10 the non-aggression axiom

III. 13:11-14 divine governance (duties in preparation for the return of the Lord)

Note how the non-aggression axiom seems encased like a jewel between present and future worlds, humanity and divinity.  This draws us into the center and substance of the relationship between sovereignty and justice.  Thus the student of scripture is compelled to take a closer look at the key text vv. 8-10, which appears following (in E.W. Bullinger’s translation).

8
Owe no one any thing, if not to love the other : for he that
loveth the other hath fulfilled…law.
9
For this,“Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not
kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,Thou shalt not covet;”
and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, namely,
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
10
Love worketh no evil to his  neighbour: therefore love
is…fulfillment of…law.
Although Paul is doing something more than simply reiterating the Mosaic revelation, the selection of Mosaic elements through which the new message is expressed is very precise and gives us the key to the new law.  Note that only those elements of the decalogue which prohibit aggression are listed.  To be sure, the decalogue also requires positive obligations such as honoring parents, but the empahsis here is on prohibitions not obligations.  Specifically, these are commandments which prohibit the violation of the rights of others.  One might quibble at the inclusion of the tenth commandment against envy, in so far as this is a psychological state and not an active violation of someone’s rights.  However this list is not a bill of particulars, but the anatomy of aggression in general, and psychological realism informs us that envy is the primary motive force for the violation of personal and property rights. What we have in vv. 8-10 is in reality a type of equation, and a very exact equation at that, such that…
Decalogue 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10=the Law of Love
Everybody who knows even the first thing about Christianity has heard about the “law of love”…in the formula “love thy neighbor etc.” the problem is to define what love really means in this context.  This is what the central passages of Romans 13 reveals to us.  Again, substituting one side of the equation,
Do not (6,7,8,9) violate your neighbor’s rights, in fact (10) don’t even think about it!=the Law of Love
or if we phrase it in terms of political theory
The Non-Aggression Axiom=the Law of Love
This formulation will startle many people on the grounds that “love” in this context seems to be divorced from passion, and typically we think of love as a passion.  However, when we are trying to approach revelation on its own terms we are not obligated to define its words according to our own preconceptions and feelings, rather we have to let context determine exegesis.
From Paul to Locke
Skeptics will claim that I am reading the Lockean theory of natural rights back into Paul.  On the contrary, I suggest that John Locke, writing at the turn of the 17th and 18th century may have got his inspiration, not just from Christianity in a general way, but from a study of Paul’s first century epistles.  We know that Locke was a close student of scripture, and of Paul in particular.  To be sure,  Locke has always been problematic for Christian orthodoxy, which is why he was received into the cannon of the West as a philosopher, not a theologian.  However here we are speaking of the divine promulgation of rights theory, and its meaning for our own times, not the question of what  John Locke as a believer thought of the Trinity, or the non-Jurors, or the Book of Common prayer.
From John Locke the tradition of natural rights flowed on to the Whig radicals, on to the writers of the American founding documents, on to the abolitionists and other social movements of the 19th century, on to the populists of the American guilded age, on to the Old Right and non-interventionism, on to those movements which today call themselves libertarian.  However this Whig/Classical Liberal/Libertarian thinking has manifested as more than bare ideas, it has been written into covenants which have rendered rights explicit and binding.  To be sure, the non-aggression axiom has passed through non-Christian, even anti-Christian minds, notably Herbert Spencer, who is always mentioned in that regard.  But this does nothing to mitigate against the possibility, to my mind the virtual certainty, that the non-aggression axiom is ultimately a thing of divine institution.  Need we, like overzealous Donatists, fear that the sacrament of liberty has been defiled because it has passed through unclean hands?  Certainly not!  None the less, at the level of documentary tradition, what  a wonderful thing it would be if we could be sure that there was an unbroken chain of binding covenants, beginning with Paul’s writings and continuing down to the Bill of Rights and beyond.  Indeed, how enlightening it ought to be, for anyone to grasp that the non-aggression principle and the law of love were two but aspects of the same divine axiom.

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A god who failed: William F. Buckley and his “conservative” movement

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 30, 2017

A Fabian Conservatism?

There are two systems operating on this Earth.  According to one, every man, woman, and child strives with carnal jealously to grasp and hold on to their rights to self and things, and when there is more than enough, the excess is disposed of, given away, or traded on the open market.  That is the better of the two systems.  According to the other system, men and women quest for virtue and renown, seeking to bring the Kingdom of Heaven down to this world, by violence if necessary, and we are further told that at the end of this process a man shall appear who resembles Christ in certain regards.  It is this second system which attracts the best and the brightest.  The late William F. Buckley Jr., 1925-2008, practicing Catholic, family man, nominal patriot and putative spy, Yale graduate, novelist, journalist, polymath and polyglot, yet above all things, “intellectual”, was certainly among the brightest of his generation.  As a general principle, we ought not speak ill of those whom God has loved and endowed with great talents, yet it is incumbent upon anyone who wishes to preserve both truth and memory to render judgement on matters of public record, and especially those actions or omissions which have led the American body politic down its present primrose path.  If we are the proverbial tin can, well then, Mr. Buckley was a chief contender among those who kicked us down the road and into the ditch.  Assuredly, we have every right to inquire into his mind and motives.

My first memory of William F. Buckley is the televised image of two posh, erudite men engaged in a furious altercation over the merits of the Republican presidential nominee in 1964.   The one on the left (from the viewers perspective) was a scandalous representative of the liberal avant guard, an inconsistent and curmudgeonly  libertarian/left/democrat, surely an entertaining character if one were to consider him in isolation.  However he could barely gain a point against the other man, the one on the right (again keeping perspective in mind) who seemed an utter novelty, the Adam of a new race which was awaiting formation, or rather self-formation.  Gore Vidal, (stage left) has kept a loyal following of fans and detractors, yet Vidal by himself would never have become an epochal, or a defining figure of those crisis years.  It was Buckley’s, not Vidal’s, video debut , which marked off a new era, not (sadly) of American political thought, but of rhetoric and reality television.

Thus was born, at least in the viewing public’s mind, that oxymoron, the “conservative intellectual.”  The hokum of Dogpatch, an image of the American right as rustic buffoons so carefully crafted by liberal opinion makers was momentarily shattered by a visible presence.  Since I was a kid, I didn’t know that Buckley had already attained considerable celebrity in literary and journalistic circles, as early as 1950, with the publication of his  God and Man at Yale, but now the word had become flesh, visible to millions upon millions of couch dwellers and potato chip eaters.   He spoke, and he spoke well, interspersing his verbal darts with the flick of a serpentine tongue across tightly drawn lips.  Suddenly, the viewers glimpsed a crack of light shining through the deadening conformity of consensus politics.  Was this the chiaroscuro dawn of a new day, or just a hoax?  It was ominous when, in a fit of peek, the new god dropped his smooth mask to coin a notorious neologism.  Vidal, he fulminated, was an “octo-moron!”  In those days of civil discourse you didn’t just go calling someone an eight-fold idiot in front of America’s families…not to mention the lexicographers!

Fast forwarding to the present, and the perspective of the post-Trump, post-civil discourse era, it becomes painfully clear that this erudite “conservatism”  has failed. Someone once observed that Hegel only “died” in 1933, a watershed beyond which many conceded that his “dialectic of history” bore scant resemblance to the logical deductions of some charitable and edifying Deity.  We might likewise reckon that  Buckley “died” in 2016, when it became abundantly clear that the chattering of the political class could no longer be confined to a salon discussion constrained by the niceties of an Americanized high tea.   Today we must reluctantly acknowledge that even domestic politics is war, perhaps not quite violent war, but war none the less.  But then, shouldn’t we have known that all along?  If we didn’t it was mainly our own fault, yet no thanks to Bill Buckley and others who were only too happy to perpetuate our fond illusions.  Hence, those moderates who have managed to wake up to the situation often discover that they are very late into a long war of attrition conducted by the left, poised on unfavorable terrain, and desperately short of intellectual ammunition.

Not that all possible ideologies which might be denominated as conservative are bankrupt, rather, it is especially the smug, above-the-fray “conservatism” defined by William F. Buckley which circumstances have rendered impotent.  Herein is the real eight-fold idiocy, not that Buckley was able to concoct a new ideology, which he had the brains and the perfect right to do, but that he usurped the nomenclature of a previous movement, the Old Right, and applied it to his novelties.  A guileless Buckley would have decanted his fresh ideological wine into new, or at least newly labeled, wine-skins.  Accordingly, Buckley might have dubbed his concoction “Fabian Conservatism” or some such critter…but he insisted on preserving the illusion of continuity with the anti-New Deal coalition.   Ironically, the moderate Socialists of the early 20th century showed a greater respect for intellectual property rights by relabeling themselves as Fabians, thus permitting the revolutionary Bolshoi to maintain their identity as “Reds.”

Actually, “Fabian” would have been a far better moniker for whatever Buckley was up to.  For one thing, the progressives, then and now, have never intended to give up a single inch of political gain.  It is always a matter of advance to the front, either slow and Fabian or fast and revolutionary.  In contrast,”conservatism” as it was reinvented by Buckley’s National Review in in the 1950s, has been much closer to the strategy of Quintus Fabius “the delayer”(Rome, 3rd c BC)…defining itself as the weaker side and then enlisting for a long, indeed perpetual, retreat.  Today we are experiencing the results of this capitulation.   Buckley, much like Keynes “in the long run”, did not live to see the full consequences of this “Fabian” defeatism, a nation in which the conservative brand as a whole has been discredited, and where only a retrenched populism and leftism remain as the primary  engines of our uncivil  discourse.

Pied Piper of the Establishment

Was Buckley’s defeatism a matter of principle?  Was it motivated by an Oswald-Spenglerian ennui in the face of irresistible winds of change?  Or was it something else, something less intellectual but more human, a quest for power and social acceptance by a man with the smarts and social connections to become a celebrity, combined with a secret contempt for moral absolutes?   John F. McManus considers this question in his William F. Buckley Jr.: Pied Piper of the Establishment, a look at the public words and actions of America’s most famous, so to speak, “conservative.”  In this concise and readable work McManus illustrates how virtually every major premise of conservatism was contravened by Mr. Buckley and his associated writers at National Review.  Did Buckley really “delay” the advent of the current unpleasant situation through judicious compromise, such as might merit the title Fabian Conservatism?  Or did he hasten on the day of reckoning by sapping the bulwarks of more authentic brands of resistance?  Mr. McManus doesn’t rush to judgement, but judge he does, by patiently building up a bill of particulars which will strongly incline the reader to embrace the latter hypothesis.  The major, though not the only, items that McManus itemizes in the antithetical “conservatism” of Mr. Buckley are the following.

  1. Buckley substituted an unidentified “conservatism” for the explicit definition of good government found in the Constitution.
  2. He shielded an unholy alliance between leftists, capitalists, and statists, or what Mr. McManus calls, “the conspiracy” from the public, by denying its existence and targeting its foes.
  3. By accepting membership in the Council on Foreign relations, he supplied dignity and cover to a key element of this conspiratorial apparatus, or what today might be called the shadow government of the deep state.
  4. He contributed to the undermining of the nation’s morality.
  5. He led Americans away from involvement in the kind of principled activism (a.k.a. any continuation of the anti-war, non-interventionist Old Right conservatism, such as flourished in the Robert Taft era).

If Mr. McManus has been able to give us a comprehensive account of Mr. Buckley, his ideology, friends, and actions, it is because, as a young conservative he was a Buckleyite himself.  Initially having no alternative to the narrative introduced by National Review which smeared the remnants of the Old Right, and in particular its revival in the organizational form of the John Birch Society, Mr. McManus was an enthusiastic “Fabian” conservative.  However the providential arrival of a letter from a total stranger (in those days before the internet when it was hard to canvass opinions beyond one’s circle or standard journalism) led McManus to question the spin which National Review had put on the distinction between “right-wing” and “conservative.”  Subsequently, McManus did his own investigations which forced him to completely rethink the ambiguous ideology of William Buckley and embrace a principled philosophy of freedom.  This in turn led to membership and later leadership in his once-scorned but now beloved John Birch Society.

Now in order to form a just estimate of William Buckley, such as McManus and others have attempted, one has to understand the context of the world into which this new “conservatism” (Buckleyite, Fabian, or just “faux”) emerged.  The Second World War had been a global victory which came at the price of weakening every domestic institution in America other than the state, and the conscience of the Old Right urged a return to something like a peacetime society and economy.  It was well understood, and not just by conservatives, that there was a natural iteration between times of war and times of peace, and that a condition of perpetual war was a recipe for tyranny.  True, there was the very real threat of Communism to be dealt with, but it had to be dealt with in such a way that the very institutions used to fight Communism did not replicate the evil they were designed to overcome.

However the wisdom of turning America back into a normal society was not so easily put into practice.  The vast wartime tangle of bureaus and red tape (into which many actual “Reds” had insinuated themselves) proved easier to dedicate to new missions than to mothball.  Predictably, the same political party which had given America the New Deal were enthusiasts for the National Security State (activated by legislation passed in 1947) which perpetuated and legitimated all the essential wartime security and military apparatus.

This rapidly consolidating system was rightfully seen by many conservatives as “Orwellian” (a coinage of that era, since 1984 was written in 1948).  Moreover, for objectors the remedy was both obvious and Constitutional, i.e., “Throw the bums out!” and restore a peacetime, lassez-faire economy.  According to the myth of the two party system, that was the expected order of things, with frequent turnarounds in power both affirming the sovereignty of the people and harmonizing  extremes of policy.  Around 1954, similar to the Trump election of 2016, enemies of the status quo envisaged that if their party won fair and square the “loyal opposition”  would consent to a fundamental reorientation of national policy.  Alas, then as now, the concept of “loyal opposition” proved to be an oxymoron…if not an eightfold idiocy!  Whatever the hardships and tragedy of the New Deal and the Second World War, the truly sinister development wasn’t triggered until, after a twenty years hiatus, a Republican administration was finally inaugurated.  To the shock and dismay of genuine conservatives, rather than a return to normality, under Eisenhower the progress towards a managerial welfare/warfare state was affirmed and even accelerated.

It was at this juncture of history that William F. Buckley Jr. appeared in the forums of public life.  Initially National Review shared the outrage of the Old Right, sill smarting from the primary defeat of Taft, at the wholesale adoption of New Deal programs and apparatus by the nominally Republican administration which had replaced Truman.  McManus notes that…

In December 1957 Buckley himself scolded President Eisenhower for his sorry leadership.  During a forum in New York City sponsored by National Review he excoriated Ike for having allowed the “problem of internal security” to grow to “to a state far worse than that under Mr. Truman.”  Insisting that “Mr. Eisenhower must, inevitably, be repudiated.”  Buckley lamented that he didn’t expect anything to be done because “Eisenhower does not take stands, except against [Senator Joseph] McCarthy and the Bricker Amendment [stipulation that treaty law did not supervene US sovereignty].”  His remarks were later published in the National Review.

Thus, early on in the editorial career of the National Review, a policy line was taken which seemed indistinguishable from the base of the Old Right/Taft Republican movement.  However as soon as these conservative bona fides were established, Buckley took a new tack, ingratiating himself to left and center by taking a more establishment approach to the issues, and, most importantly, positioning himself on the acceptable side of the “right-wing extremist” vs. “conservative” divide.   Conveniently, the criteria for judging this distinction were largely devised by Mr. Buckley himself. An initial omen of this strategy was McCarthy and his Enemies (1954) a book coauthored by Buckley  on the anti-Communist investigator, an ostensible defense which contained so many unseemly observations of its subject and his cause that it diminished both.  By the early ’60s it should have been clear that Buckley had done a two-step, 1) appropriate the label “conservative” through his initial appeals to the Old Right, and  2) change the definition of “conservative” by stigmatizing most of the positions traditionally held by the Old Right.

It is important to remember that the Old Right (used here as equivalent to the anti-New Deal coalition) was a lassez-faire, generally anti-war, limited government movement.  It was not “right-wing” in the pejorative sense that subsequent political rhetoric has framed the term.  Significantly, such genuine rightists as existed in the America of the ’30s and ’40s seldom opposed the New Deal in principle.  The segregationist “Dixicrats” were all aboard FDR’s gravy train, and the scattering of minuscule groups which sought to ape European fascism could only complain that the New Deal was insufficiently centralized, militarized, technocratic, paganized or dictatorial.

The making of a god

However, if one is positioning oneself as the ascending god of public opinion, it is not sufficient, though it may be necessary, to redraw a nation’s ideological cartography.  As McManus repeatedly points out in his criticism of Buckley, which is in fact a criticism of the way conservatives “do politics,” ideology is generally overrated as a ground of human action.  Contrary to whatever Richard Weaver may have intended, it is people, not ideas, who create political  consequences…at least in the short run.  To put it according to the myths of the old pagans, whether one is Oedipus or the King of Alba Longa, one must slay the god of the harvest if one wishes to establish a new religion.  In the case of William F. Buckley Jr., it was not enough to displace, disparage, and assume the mantle of a bloodless abstraction such as “conservatism” or the generic, and geriatric, “Old Right.”  As in days of yore, a living sacrifice was necessary.

Now it so happened that, preceding and shadowing the career of our Ivy League tyro was another man, a very different sort of fellow, a practical businessman and independent researcher, yet one who, in the technical definition of anthropologist Rene Girard might be reckoned as Buckley’s “double.”   That man was Robert Welch, who founded the John Birch Society in 1958.  Whatever the merits of Girard’s theories might be, it  is said that in a mimetic universe (that is, a society populated by imitative creatures, which indeed sounds rather familiar) it is impossible for doubles to long coexist.  Buckley and Welch were doubles in the sense that one or the other was destined to become the rallying point of the conservative cause.  One or the other, not both.

To translate from mythic to political terms, an assassination was in order!  Fortunately for Welch, especially considering Buckley’s career in operational intelligence, assassination of character was deemed sufficient.  Welch, having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil  (something Buckley was especially dedicated to preventing among his fledgling “conservatives”) was cast out of the paradise of polite company, and into the valley of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Except that Welch neither wailed nor gnashed his teeth, but took his public stigma, or what Girard would call his “skapegoating” with charitable fortitude.

Just as Girard’s mimetic theory would predict, it worked like a charm, this exchange of fates between Welch and Buckley.  McManus quotes Buckley biographer Judis on the potent effects…

Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society also transformed him as a public figure.  He [Buckley] was no longer the pariah of the McCarthy days.  He was a public representative of the new conservatism that television producers and college deans could invite to appear without provoking an outcry.  Whether intentional or not, Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society prepared the way for his own celebrity. (McManus p. 153)

[N.B., Pay attention to how  “without provoking an outcry” appears, from the vantage of the present,  on the forward side of a half-century historical parenthesis! Intimidation of speech outside of the left’s allowed parameters is not a novelty of the post-Trump era, but has been a frequent academic constraint in both 20th and 21st century America.  Perhaps the intermission of good feeling and toleration was only due to “Fabian” self-censorship on the part of conservatives.]

The scapegoating of Welch and the new ideological cartography mutually reinforced and validated each other.  One doesn’t have to be a Harry Turtledove to imagine an alternative historical scenario, a world in which Welch did the scapegoating and Buckley became the sacrifice.  The major obstacle to the realization of this alternative universe was the basic decency and fair-play of Welch himself, who refused to be drawn into mimetic rivalry with fellow conservatives.  Welch illustrated his own attitude by prefacing his response to the scapegoating with lines from the poet Edwin Markham…

He drew a circle and shut me out–

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!  (McManus p.154)

Furthermore, the inverted ideological map of the alternative universe would actually make far more sense, with Welch positioned as the centrist and Buckley as “far right-wing.”  Most people at the mid-point of the 20th century would, setting aside propaganda, have regarded Welch as the solid “bourgeois” and Buckley as the scheming, effete, aristocrat.  Indeed, it was this almost French Bourbon air of amorality and private immunity which gave Buckley much of his charm and influence.  And if such quirks of character were not enough enough to make one suspect that Buckley was far to the “right” of Welch, what about the secret societies, the espionage, the pornography and similar intrigue?  I won’t go into the details here as McManus documents them extensively in his book.  However it might be  useful to take a synoptic glance at what McManus evidently considers Buckley’s most damning characteristic.

Barking up the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

To reiterate, Buckley made a sacrifice of Welch, thus becoming a divinity, the god of a new conservative movement formed in his own image.  However, there is a curse attendant on all mortals who pretend to godhood, that they must sleeplessly patrol the bounds of their sacred groves against the onslaught of fresh rivals.  We may liken Buckley to the cherub charged with guarding paradise, however the tree that he was set guard over was not that of life, but rather concerned a very specific form of knowledge.

To be sure, Buckley was not against knowledge or intellect, and with the exception of one particular form of knowing, he was pleased to spread abroad all sorts of chatty information and innuendo.  This included exposure of the more outrageous left wing follies, and to this was added his police function as a maintainer of conservative standards of belief and decorum.  In short, he was smart, and he was on a mission to save America from its own stupidity, stupidity and error of such magnitude that it threatened to lose the Cold War and bring Western Civilization to an untimely end.  Nor was he against knowledge in the sense of “carnal knowledge” and he had a Playboy interview to prove it.  That too was smart, in the sense of currying favor with “the smart set” of the ’60s.

Most significantly, as intellectual-in-chief, Buckley enjoyed the role of contrarian, stimulating all sorts of fascinating conversations by reversing conservative thought on key social and economic issues.  Should Richard Nixon have instituted wage-and-price controls?  Well, why not give it try?  Contrary to everything which the Austrian school of economics had painstakingly demonstrated, that wage-and-price controls would sabotage production and exchange, Buckley felt that one had to be open minded on the topic.  Should the Supreme court have had authority to determine whether abortion was murder?  Why not?  True, two-thousand years of Christian teaching had already provided a clear answer to this question.  However Mr. Buckley, though a Catholic, felt that discussion on the topic needed to be opened up and freed from dogma.  In addition to abortion and price controls, Mr. McManus lists over a dozen “indefensible positions”(pp. 220-229) where Buckley either reversed the conservative stand or introduced moral ambiguity.  And should we have been surprised?  After all, settled doctrines don’t sell magazines or increase the ratings of televised talk shows the way that controversy and factional in-fighting do.

Yet for all his delight in upsetting the apple cart of knowledge, there was one angle which Buckley declared taboo.  With regard to American government policy, and to some extent other institutions of society, all investigation had to take place within the smart/stupid framework.  The alternative framework, the good/evil framework, was strictly out of bounds.  Any policy commentator who suggested that there was a conspiracy in high places actively engaged in undermining America’s best interests, was just a dog barking up the tree of forbidden knowledge, and needing to be silenced.  These barking dogs were many, including not just Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Robert Welch, and Herbert Hoover, but ironically Buckley himself together with the staff of National Review, prior to his apotheosis as the god of a new conservatism.  Yet as early the mid-’50s it was clear that a new paradigm was taking hold.

In August 1956, at about the same time that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was warning of a “conspiracy so monstrous” that one “cannot believe that it exists,” Buckley offered his contrary view that America’s problems were occurring “spontaneously, not in compliance with a continuously imposed discipline.”  In effect, he was saying, “Don’t listen to Hoover, the House Committee, or the Senate Subcommittee.  Ignore even my own statement in McCarthy and His Enemies.  The bad that happens to our nation is the result of spontaneous stupidity, not orchestrated design.”  (McManus pp. 128-129)

Apart from questions of historical accuracy, why is this still a big deal?  Of all the trees in the political garden, why does the fruit of this one matter in a unique way?  Let’s pay attention to the observations of Mr. McManus….

Concluding that willful conspirators rather than mere bumbling do-gooders are at the root of such problems stimulates activity because of human nature’s most powerful instinct: self-preservation.  Most who decide that the disastrous transformation of America is the work of deliberate evildoers will do whatever they can to save their country, themselves, and their loved ones.

But those who become convinced that the damage being done results from well-intentioned mistakes will do little except grumble.  Even while witnessing the ongoing destruction, they will shrug their shoulders, continue working to keep their heads above water, and naively expect others in government and elesewhere to eventually see the error of their ways and take corrective action.

Today, as never before, many are willing to impute evil to their governing officials.  Unpleasant as this might be, it at least gives us grounds for reevaluating Buckley’s assessment that stupidity and not conspiracy was at the root of America’s ills.  Fewer and fewer people today would concur with this assessment, however time and energy have been lost through distractions…not the least of distractions being Buckley’s influence, an influence which both intellectualized and demoralized political discourse on the right.

Postscript on Intellectuals and Pseudo-Intellectuals

It was a balm to the pride of conservatives in the 20th century that thinkers on the left consisted not of actual, but of false or “pseudo”, intellectuals.  In contrast, Mr. Buckley and his cohorts could be trotted out as examples of the genuine article.  To be sure, Buckley and his friends were more erudite, not to mention amiable, than your average Weatherman.  However, in some ultimate sense Mr. Buckley was as “pseudo” as they came, and for reasons that should now be apparent, that, being a conscientious objector to the war against evil, he whiled away his time in the garden of ideas.

That is not to say that ideas cannot be serious.  However the number of people for whom ideas are central to existence is few indeed.  For Bill Buckley ideas were toys, baubles of the mind which could be entertained as hypotheses, not principles which compelled moral action.  How many of us can say that we deal with ideas in any other way?  Are we all not pseudo-intellectuals to one degree or another?  Perhaps that is our nature, the nature of those of us who are less than gods.  Perhaps it is good to be only a pseudo-intellectual.

Those who truly sought salvation in ideas have nearly vanished from the Earth.  Plato, Plotinus, Hypatia of Alexandria, and later during the Renaissance, Pletho and  Pico before his conversion by Savonarola, and perhaps a few others.  William F. Buckley was not among their company, and neither was Jesus of Nazareth.  So in spite of old Bill’s long list of sins, which I have barely touched upon here, this speaks well for his soul, that he was not an intellectual in the absolute sense.  There is always hope.

 

 

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In Defense of “Man”

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 15, 2017

Not Even Wrong

Suddenly.

Not suddenly as you or I measure time, but suddenly according to the stately cadences of historical events, we have lost, if not yet our species, at least, and ominously, our name for it.  At some point in the not very distant past, “Man” vanished…not extinguished as an  organism, but as an object of consciousness.  For where there is no name there can be no consciousness, where there is no consciousness there can be no science.  Today there is no longer a science called Anthropology worthy of its name, for the name has been banished.   I don’t mean the entertaining science of bones and basket weaving and many other shining objects which is offered in college curricula as “Anthropology.”  I mean Anthropology in the most specific of species-centered meanings, inquiry into that simple question….”What is…what is…[bleep!].”   It is a question which can scarcely be asked today, let alone answered.

This masking of “Man” strikes me as an important development which deserves an extended and serious discussion.   To that end, some ground rules are necessary, concerning which I have some good news and some bad news.  Here goes both:  Sex will not be mentioned in the course of this article.  I have no interest whether the reader be sex-crazed or celibate, male or female or anywhere on the spectrum in-between.  I am only interested in whether you think this Anthropological murder mystery is worth of your time and consideration.

If you concur, then the omission of sex and his/her ugly sibling “gender” is good news indeed, because these things are monumental and, I would argue, intentional, distractions from the difficulties involved in Philosophical Anthropology.  Those bad news bears,  non-adults who think sexuality is the central, nay exclusive, issue in life, can adjourn to their favorite safe space, the Reading Room on Gender, where they can reinforce their own bias among those vast collections of literature which are supplemented daily by our subsidized scholars and their media mimes.

Now to be sure, there are other rabbit paths leading away from the essential inquiry, its just that sex and gender are the most obvious, if not the most obnoxious, and hence need to be eliminated first.  However, those other anti-Anthropological rabbit paths, though less celebrated, become increasingly subtle as the core of the problem is approached.  In any subject, the task is hard enough when we have been force-fed the wrong answers…the real difficulties start when we realize that we started off on the wrong foot by asking the wrong questions.  Today, when we encounter the fundamental question of  Philosophical Anthropology, to paraphrase the incidentally sexy but essentially humane Erin Brockovitch, “..all we have is two wrong feet and damn ugly shoes.”  We don’t know”bleep!”…and the absence of the word doesn’t help.

If we wish to restore that lost science, it will prove necessary to go back and wrap our brains around that simple word “Man” which was once the standard English term for the class of all human beings, much like its French equivalent “l’homme” etc..  Man has long since disappeared out of scholarly, correct and polite language , which means pretty much everywhere, since in casual idiom, if we discount “Man oh man!” and similar oddities, the universalizing nomenclature of Philosophical Anthropology is worse than useless.  After all, you can tell a good joke about Poles, or rabbis, or priests, or homosexuals, or women, and yes, even about “men” qua the male gender, but its hard (short of aliens or the envious algorithms of The Matrix) to envision a “Man” joke.  However, while the comedians won’t notice, there might be a few instances where, for the health of civilization, the ability to have a word for the human species could come in handy.  From this, we can derive another important consideration, once “Man” has been abolished, it  is unlikely to be missed by the broad masses.  The only people who are likely to be bothered are a few specialists in what it means to be a unique species, and these specialists are generally regarded an over-serious, isolated and boring bunch.  Likewise, if the word “epidemic” and all synonyms for “epidemic” were outlawed, the only people likely to get in a panic would be epidemiologists.  Everyone else would get along quite splendidly…at least for a while.

To be sure, the abolition of “Man” and the Abolition of Man, as per the essay by C.S. Lewis are not identical.  The latter concerns the weakening of the species, the former concerns the loss of its name.  Indeed, the distinction between signs and things signified is another treasure which must be jealously guarded against the ravages of post-modernity, which is trying to slouch its way back towards a magical worldview.  Be that as it may, we can still surmise that in the defense of something it might prove essential to be able to speak about it.

On the other hand, we have to make especially sure we don’t get lured down another popular rabbit path, a highly respectable path none the less leads away from the Anthropological core: The path of language.  For example, we could easily lump this abolition of “Man” (the word) together with similar language “correction.”  Pointing out the absurdity of these corrections is the strategy of many conservatives, such as British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton who talks about the way that gender neutrality reforms have “violated the natural cadences of the English language.”   On an esthetic level, there may still be some residual irritation at “people” (or similar substitutes) in lieu of “Man”.  Yet, while this is good Edmund Burke-vintage common sense, it heads off in a trivial and logic mincing direction, of the kind favored by British analytical philosophers and American word-pundits in the Bill Safire tradition.  It expresses a futile, rearguard, hope that inane reforms, like the substitution of his and hers by “hez” can be reversed by a return to  convention, or even mutual rationality.  Rather, the Postmodernist hoards are not likely to be stemmed by a grammar policeman, policewoman, or even policeperson holding up a gloved hand, shouting “Stop!”  Its not that the “reforms” can’t be exposed as illogical and unappealing, its that they are just the tip of the spear carried by acolytes in a far deeper struggle.

Whether the war over language is winnable, I maintain it is the war against Man (as a concept) which is primary, a battle with ideological motives rooted in the hoary past.  Call it a “conspiracy” if you will, keeping in mind that conspiracy is just  popular philosophy prosecuted by cadres of minimally educated but highly motivated minions.  The generals in this conspiracy knew that they could not launch a frontal assault on Man (a.k.a. the human race), so they focused their attention on “Man” at first as a concept and then as a word.  This history of this war is better measured by centuries than by decades and has taken many a convoluted turn.  Hence my belief that contemporary Feminism is, at best, a secondary effect.  It is the Amazon battalion thrown into the breach of the citadel after the the groundwork had been patiently laid and the initial battlefield secured.  That crucial battlefield was anthropology, and not what one is liable to think of as the field of anthropology, but its philosophical cousin, that key science of all sciences, namely, the “Philosophy of…[bleep!]…”

A good “Man” is wrong to find

One can admit something exists and is important without idolizing it.  There was all too much idolization of the human race after the Renaissance and building up to the Enlightenment, a period bookended by Pico de la Mirandola’s On the Dignity of [Bleep!] and Alexander Pope’s Essay on [Bleep!] tomes which style and economy have rendered, perhaps mercifully, unreadable today.  In those days, whenever errant scholars ventured too far from the Pauline/Augustinian double anthropology of fall and redemption, it spelled trouble.  However, personal repentance generally put a  limit to the damage which could be inflicted before the toxic juice of self-worship became endemic to society.  Mirandola befriended and was converted by Savonarola, that misunderstood Catholic puritan, while at least Pope never became the Pope nor were his verses rendered into binding encyclicals.  Savonarola taught the early humanists the secret of Christian Anthropology, that Man is both sacred and bad.  For his tuition, and other causes, he was burned at the stake.

The last child and virtual apotheosis (that is, one “made into God”) of the early modern period was Voltaire, who’s hatred of religion was legendary.  None the less, even Voltaire had too much common sense to think that his animus towards Christianity could be transmuted into a new and living faith.  He noted that “It is easy enough to start a new religion, all you have to do is get yourself crucified and then rise from the dead!”  In recent years, the late Rene Girard has documented Voltaire’s insight with numerous case-studies, illustrating how most human religions originate in scapgoating, death, and subsequent apotheosis.  However the wily Voltaire could see where all this was heading, and limited his disciples to the “cultivation of  their gardens” i.e., the enjoyment of a quiet and restrained sensuality.  We might call this soft-core Humanism, or the humanism of the self.   This early modern Man-ism, which today is probably the most popular (albeit unconscious) religion on the planet, is little more than a recrudescence of old Epicurus, whose famous doctrine Paul once debated on the field of Athenian Mars.  At worst the virtues of this philosophy, such as conviviality, apolitical repose, refined aesthetics etc., are disguised vices, vices centered on feelings.  Think of the the steriotypical Country Club Republican of today’s America.  Such people are pathetic, but not in any superficial sense of the word, since the purpose of their  life is “pathic”…that is, to have feelings, high quality feelings.

Hard-core Humanism was a novelty of Voltaire’s rival, J. J. Rousseau.  In contrast to the soft doctrine, here the object of action is the ideal of Man, not the feeling-satisfaction of individual human beings.   It was Rousseau who managed to transmute the Enlightenment’s carping animus against Christianity into something resembling a true religion.  As the founder of this new religion, which has variously been termed Modernism, Humanism, Socialism and much else, Rousseau should have found himself subject to the pitiless Law of the Scapegoat.  However he eluded martyrdom, and not just because he died a natural death nineteen years prior to the outbreak of the revolution he had inspired.  Rousseau’s Man differed in important ways from both Christian and Renaissance conceptions, which were predicated on either a personal God, or at any rate, a hierarchy of beings of which the human race was but one link in the chain of existence.  Although initially disguised by Deistic code-words, the new religion lifted up Man as the Head of the Cosmos.  Since this Man was a collective, it was not expedient that any individual anti-Christ need suffer the Law of the Scapegoat.  If there were to be any suffering, it would only be in accord with the tyrant Caligula’s wish for the Roman people, “If only they all had but one neck!”  In principle, the head which lifts itself too high gets chopped off.  Caligula himself  proved  no exception to the rule.

At all events, by the 2nd or 3rd  year of the Human Revolution (c. 1793AD) modern technology had outstripped antiquity, democratizing death and allowing Caligula’s dream to come true.  The guillotine enabled the disciples of Rousseau to liquidate the old political class en mass, and then in a predictable turn of events, those disciples themselves mounted the scaffold, suffering a kind of mechanical crucifixion to the god whom they had lifted up, Man.  It was a collective crucifixion to a collective god, for this “Man” was not the same as in the soft Humanism of Voltaire, which was just a category designating a collection of individuals.  Rather, this post-Rousseau “Man” was, if not quite a concrete organism, at least cohesive enough to have a single will, a doctrine as lethal as it was democratic.

The carnage of the Revolutionary/Napoleonic period was not repeated in Europe until 1914 and thereafter, after which great quantities of men and women again began to be killed as a consequence of political and military action.  Here  we would like to inquire whether this carnage (lit. carnal death) was in some sense related to the death (or life) of an abstraction.  Is there a relation between the death of humans and the death of “Man” as a concept and a word, and if so, is that relation positive or negative?  The example of the French Revolution would seem to caution us against a laudatory Humanism, on the suspicion that the higher the ideal of “Man” is lifted up, the more human individuals are likely to be subjected to political violence.

At this point in the argument however, such a conclusion would be premature.  The period between the exile of Napoleon and the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand in Bosnia, which saw relative calm in European politics was conversely that period which witnessed, for good or ill, a wholesale revolution in popular concept of “Man” under the impact of Evolution, Marxism, and Psycho-analysis.  However none of these epicenters of scientific upheaval were directly concerned with Anthropology, at least Philosophical Anthropology, rather they were centered on the cognate disciplines of biology, economics, and psychology.

More to the point, none of these revolutionaries set out to solve the problem, “What is… [bleep!]…”   However others took up that now forbidden question, and we should try to pick up their tracks from where they left off in the tumult of 19th century thought.

Philosophical Anthropology: The Conspiracy Thickens

Today if you mention “Illuminism” it is likely to conjure up secret societies, occultism and political skulduggery, critical investigation into which is no doubt important and proper.  However in the literary salons of Europe and America during the 1840s and 185os Illuminism had a second, though in all probability related, meaning.  It referred to the then-novel research which today’s theologians refer to as the “Higher Criticism.”  If you know about, say, the “Jesus Seminar” then you pretty much know what Illuminism a.k.a. “Higher Criticism” was, except that the contemporary Seminar is pretty much an isolated rehashing of themes which were treated with greater plausibility and seriousness 170 years before.  Those earlier 19th century critics of religion were advancing along the front of a broad intellectual movement which was in the early stages of transiting from spiritualism to materialism.  The cynosure of the movement was Germany in the years following, and in reaction to, the death of philosopher G.F.W. Hegel.  To simplify a very complex way of thinking, many people of that time had accepted Pantheism, the idea that the universe and God are the same thing.  Since most people are not very quick on the uptake, and are willing to sign on to a belief systems before they grasp all of its correlative implications.

Thus, many a happy Pantheist, circa 1840AD, was surprised and saddened to learn that their system no longer permitted them to believe in the personal divinity of Jesus, whom they had hoped to retain as a spiritual hedge in spite of their infidel inclinations .  They should have figured this out from reading Hegel, but it took the shock treatment administered by some young, radical, German intellectuals of the time (a.k.a.,  the Illuminists, Higher Critics etc.) to rub the noses of these au currant ladies and gentlemen in the compost of atheism.  After a halfhearted embrace of Pantheist ambiguity, some among the elite classes of Europe were again courting hard-core, Rousseau-vintage, Humanism, very much along the lines of the original French Revolution of 1789, albeit the European political revolutions of the 40s didn’t amount to much.  This time, humanism broke out with more scientific rigor and less heartfelt enthusiasm, “Man” was made the vehicle of those hopes and dreams which had previously been invested in God.  Moreover, the unprecedented technological progress of the times were conducive to putting faith in human works.

Yet those works, splendid as they might be, begged the nature of their creators.  What was the essence of Man?  Or as we would say today, “What is the essence of….[bleep!]?”  Amazing though it might seem in retrospect, some people of that era actually took the time and pains to ask the Anthropological question.  The man who best serves as archetype of those questioners, actually proposing and discarding several solutions over the course of his life, was the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872).  One thing that can be said of Feuerbach, even if we dismiss him as a serial wrong-guesser who justly earned posthumous obscurity, was his persistent and scrupulous engagement with the Anthropological question.  His best remembered quote,”You are what you eat!” might ornament a nutritionist more gloriously than a philosopher.  Yet we must consider that, as a thinker, he was an anvil and not a hammer, pounded left and right by forces which were not just making Modernity but shattering the classical mirror of Man (better known to us as “bleep!”).  Feurerbach’s lifetime bracketed an epochal turn in human self-definition, a turn which Feuerbach didn’t initiate so much as chronicle.

Therefore, meditate on the chronological sketch below and notice how the the turn from Anthropology to anti-Anthropology transpired in the space of a specific, species-haunted, generation.  I know this narrative will be easy to dismiss as a curmudgeon’s rant on “the origins of the left”  but if you visualize the broad movement behind, and independent of, individual intentions will you grasp  its Anthropological significance.  In spooky confirmation of a simultaneous and  universal (or at least pan-Western) turn of thought, the history of early Positivism could be adduced as  a development in synchronicity with Idealism, but in this case the decapitation of Man being conducted by French, and allegedly “conservative” social scientists from August Compte to Emile Durkheim.  But I rather prefer the bold and brooding history of Anglo-German radicalism.

1804  death of Immanuel  Kant, birth of L. Feuerbach

1806 Hegel publishes his Phenomenology, consciousness posited as the motive force in the history of the world, subjective (individual) consciousness conditioned in a “dialectical” relationship to objective (collective) consciousness.

1818-19 Lectures on the History of Philosophy, S. T. Coleridge introduces German Idealism to the English reading public, slowly Idealism will replace the reigning Scottish “common sense” philosophy in the English speaking world.

1831  death of Hegel

1835 Life of Jesus, by Strauss

1841 The Essence of Christianity by Feuerbach

1843 The Essence of Christianity translated by George Eliot

1844 Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, critical of objectivity and lack of political engagement in speculative Anthropology

1847-48 Revolutions in France and central Europe

1848 The Communist Manifesto

1850 The Great London Exposition, popular vindication of applied technology over philosophical and scientific theory

1854-56 Crimean War (only major European war between 1815-1914)  Nightingale, progressive transfer of humane care from family and church to state

1859 Charles Darwin, the Origin of Species, natural selection adduced as motive force in natural history

1860 Essays and Reviews, English theologians embrace the methods of Higher Criticism

1861-65 American civil war, first modern “total” war

1861 Marx, Capital vol. 1 published

1871 Charles Darwin, the Descent of Man

1872 Death of Feuerbach

Note that at the outset Man was The All-In-All, but at the end of the period, not even the  child of a monkey, rather, a scion of some anonymous animal.

In The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach attempted to equate God with “good.”  In his view all the things which were posited of a Supreme Being were actually virtuous attributes of the human species-being.  Justice, mercy, love, fidelity, etc., were human characteristics, which had been mistakenly projected on to an alienated figment of the collective imagination and deified.  However, and here’s the rub, the human individual had no more ultimate reality than God.  Feuerbach’s Man was not men, or men and women, or even people, but the species as a collective.   Individuals were mortal but the species was immortal.  Man was God, Man was good, and Man would live forever.  At the time it seemed like a grand faith, a devotion to something tangible which might give meaning to the limited and fragile life of individuals.

Feuerbach’s intention was  to make a smooth transition from the crypto-Pantheism of Hegel, to a less infatuated, more earthy, Humanism.  Yet  his critics were were more likely to see this continuity with idealism as contamination by unrealistic nonsense.  As thinkers more cunning and sanguinary than Feuerbach were quick to point out, this alleged Human species-being never managed to will anything concrete and  unanimously, but rather, all real  history has been the history of antagonistic groups engaged in fratricidal strife.  For the critics, the ultimate meaning of history was far better illustrated by victorious parties dancing on the graves of the defeated than a universally inclusive chorus singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  According to Karl Marx the antagonistic parties were economic classes, and to some extent nations.  Today we would add genders, races, religions, and even sexual orientations.  Under fire from its radical critics, Human species-being quickly melted into the solvent of class analysis.

Small wonder that Marx happily discarded Feuerbach’s anthropology for the naturalism of Darwin, at one point seeking (and being refused) permission to dedicate Capital to the British naturalist.  Darwin’s system was founded on the assumption of conflict and competition, not the deduction of human from divine virtues.  Feuerbach continued to revise his system in the direction of increasingly consistent materialism, but was no longer in the forefront of a generation which had jumped from philosophical speculation to natural science, now that the latter was backed up by the prestige of  rapidly developing technology.

More significantly, the capital which Darwin did not endorse was the capital M in Man.  In classical anthropology Man had been one of the primordial kinds, as in Spirit, Man, Animal, and Mineral.  Naturalists from Aristotle to Buffon had recognized that  qua organism, the human body was akin to other mammals, and especially to apes and monkeys.  However in a consistently despiritualized science, the one human species was no longer set apart from the myriad of other animals, but rather fell under the same biological and ethological constraints as any other organism.  This reduction may have deeply bothered Darwin personally, but as a scientist he never really posed the Anthropological question the same way that Feuerbach had done, rather he was resigned to viewing homo sapiens as a single object within the purview of the natural science.  In spite of the title, after The Decent of Man, Man ceased to exist as a problem for natural science.  Or more precisely, from a Darwinian point of view, Man, as a unique aspect of the world, had never existed to begin with.

From Man to “Man”

We began by hinting that the loss of “Man” was a harbinger of the death of our own species.  After some clarification we can now understand that the situation is rather worse than we had initially feared, in that, conceptually, Man was killed off sometime in the middle of the 19th century, while “Man” (the word) actually survived the concept by more than a hundred years.  To maintain clarity, we must remember that there are actually three deaths.  First, the death of the concept, second the death of the word, and third, and yet to happen, the actual species extinction of homo sapiens.  That the third death is yet to happen should not imply that it necessarily will, it is only a hypothesis.  None the less, the three deaths are cognitively related.  In particular, the death of Man (the concept) at the hands of Darwinism, is strongly associated with the putative mortality of the species.  If Man is subject to species extinction, as are all organic taxa according to the laws of natural selection, then Man cannot be considered a primary aspect of the world.  As an analogy, consider the concept of “states of matter” which are generally accepted as uniform, or at least ubiquitous, aspects of nature.  If, say, all liquids could disappear from the cosmos, it would put the schema of “states of matter” in serious doubt.  Something of that nature is what has happened with Man, due to the anti-Anthropological turn circa 1860.

Now, would it be too wicked for me to suggest that while Man is not a “species” in the same sense that felix domestica is a species, none the less Man bears an uncanny resemblance to the cat, that enigmatic creature of the proverbial nine lives?  Not only did the word “Man” persist far longer than one might have expected, but Anthropology entered a period of great fruition after the death of Darwin.  Here I’m not referring primarily to what people ordinarily think of as “Anthropology”, the post-Darwinian people-within-nature paradigm which covers everything from bones to basket weaving.  Be wary that, just as in politics, where the nomenclature for everything gets twisted around to its opposite, and we now are forced to call socialists “liberals” in similar fashion those post-Darwinian scholars who no longer believe in a human essence are liable to call themselves “Anthropologists.”  In fact, they are mostly anti-Anthropologists who just want to study the secondary attributes and accidental properties associated with human beings.   Granted, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, and on the whole these so-called Anthropologists are not a bad lot, being no more consistently anti-Anthropological than the other professionals who have have inherited scattered fragments among the human sciences.  If the so-called Anthropologists have any besetting sins, those would be 1) they stole the name away from genuine Anthropology, 2) some sub-schools were virulently anti-cognitive, for example the ethnologist Franz Boaz who never saw a theory that he didn’t want to grind down into a powder of facts, 3) others, notably the Structuralists, were hyper-cognitive, and sought to gin up a Theory of Everything, based on some attribute (usually kinship or language) of human thought or behavior.

The anti-Anthropologists who called themselves “Anthropologists” loved “Man” (the word).  After all, it was their schtick, and made a nifty title for textbooks, even textbooks written by sophisticated Darwinians and Marxists who knew that human species-being had gone out of fashion with Feuerbach.  In the meantime, anything on two legs with an opposable thumb would do, and it was all great fun until Feminism put the kibosh on that particular branding.  None the less, so-called  “Anthropology” took the ban on “Man” in stride, since their usage of the term was based on a consistent nominalism, if not on a conscious memory of the anti-Anthropological roots of modern natural science.  Fortunately, due to the exclusion of classical languages, undergraduates could still take “Anthro” and not worry their heads that banned “Man” had never meant just  andro…indeed, that it had meant much more than both andro and gyno put together.

Yet, I wanted to mention the 2oth century miracle of Anthropology, not so-called “Anthropology” but genuine Philosophical Anthropology, as it flourished after, and in spite of, the anti-Anthropological turn of the previous generation.  If I thought that Man were a mere species and not an attribute of Created Being, my inclination would be to classify it somewhere within the family Leporidae, as a mammal with a capacity for making unexpected intellectual leaps, and multiplying thoughts faster than other species can reproduce their genes.  To that end, what great broods have been spawned, not just among the anti-Anthropologists, which is only to be expected, but even among genuine Anthropologists during the 20th and even 21st centuries!

Now remember, when I heap praise on the battered remnants of genuine, philosophical, Anthropology, I’m only lauding them for asking the right question, namely: “What is…[bleep!]”  And by now you understand what “bleep!” is and that a Philosophical Anthropologist is one who would know and say that “bleep!”=Man, and that possibly we should even come out and say “Man” when we mean Man.  I am not saying that many, or even any, of these Anthropologists have answered the question correctly, although I think there is an answer, and that some have made a closer approach to the correct solution than others.  Naturally I have my own views, but I would consider anyone a legitimate Anthropologist who asked the question aright.

There are schools of Philosophical Anthropology of every description.  Some are religious, some are frankly atheistic, but even the most starkly atheistic Anthropologists demure from post-Darwinian naturalism in positing something unique and essential about the human race.  In that sense, all Anthropologists, from atheists to Christians, are tendering a kind of “minority report” against the consensus view of modern science and society.  An atheistic, but genuine, Anthropologist might posit that the human race has a unique responsibility to conserve the cosmos and bring it to its best potential.  Countering this, the consensus view would maintain that such an assertion was errant nonsense, an arbitrary projection of human values into the unthinking and unthinkable void.

In a brief treatment, it is impossible to do more than allude to all the speculative “minority reports” which have been filed by Philosophical Anthropologists against the hegemony of post-Darwinian naturalism.  No doubt many of these speculations have been wrong-headed, but they have at least kept a window open to world-views outside the standard narrative.  If I had to pick a representative of the type it would be Max Scheler(German, d. 1928).  Feuerbach’s anthropolgy began with materialistic idealism and sloped inexorably down to idealistic materialism, however Scheler’s thought described a parabola, which at its height sought the divine in Man.   Personality, both Divine and Human, was arguably Scheler’s main concern, however his reluctance to deal with the limits imposed by a temporal creation, as per the Judeo-Christian scriptures, subordinated individuality to the vague infinity of deep time, a dilemma similar to that encountered by the ancient Gnostics.  Abandoning his initial, and intentionally Christian, viewpoint, Scheler made the alarming discovery that, in precluding a personal God, the amoral instinctual urges of the Cosmos were far stronger than  any principle of spiritual form or sentiment.   The intellectual public in Germany and beyond, repelled by such otiose metaphysics embraced existentialism, a doctrine which gave up on the reality of anything but individuals.  Anthropology once again retreated to the shadows.

In retrospect, Feurebach and Scheler seem like tragic figures who lifted up Man, in one or another guise, as a god, only to see their systems crushed down by more consistently nihilistic doctrines.  However it doubtful whether their contemporaries saw the loss of Anthropological hegemony as something to be lamented.  Rather, they were relieved to be unburdened of Man, just as they had greeted the earlier, and logically prior, “death of God” with satisfaction.

The return of Man, and the return of “Man”…which, both or neither?

The operational assumption is that people can get along perfectly well without a conception of their own species occupying a special place in the system of the world.  Underlying this assumption is the more fundamental axiom that the natural science narrative is our default outlook on the world.  After all, its “natural” is it not?

However the “minority report” of Philosophical Anthropology raises the  specter of a completely different world, a world in which the unique bearers of the divine image have been persuaded that they are but one of a myriad of animal species.  By this account, the conceptual framework of natural science within which the image bearers were circumscribed, was not so much a “discovery” as the imputation of a belief-system.  From this perspective, it is naturalism, not the classical Man-centered cosmology, which is fabulous.  To get the masses of humanity to believe such a deflating fable in the course of a few centuries, has been a superbly effective triumph of propaganda.  Although we have some hints as to who has disseminated this propaganda, the question of in whose interest it was disseminated remains enigmatic.

Within the English-speaking world, the banner of the old classical Anthropology (Christian or secular) was “Man.”  The banner was not furled up until long after the cause was lost.  Yet the banner itself was essential, so essential that the high command of anti-Anthropology decided to send in the Amazonian battalion to haul it down under the pretext of the gender wars.  Lost in the confusion of that particular skirmish, was the deep import of having a proper name for that key nexus of Creation through which the Divine, ideally, was to communicate its dominion over the visible world.  “People” is more than just an innocent substitute for “Man”, since, being a plural, it serves as a pretext for importing the entire philosophy of nominalism into the human sciences.  Nominalism views entities (you and me and the cat and the carpet) as capable of being grouped into any category which happens to be convenient.   Who’s convenience?

It can be safely inferred that this is a view well suited to those who want to abolish the boundaries between species.  Perhaps now the reader can see the relevance of all the preceding esoteric Anthropology, for looming on the event horizon of our world are a thousand crises brought about by relation of the human to the non-human.  Indeed, we are conjuring up new categories of non-humans day by day.  AI and aliens, robots and Chimeras, not to mention all those entities of the natural and spiritual world who are ancient in human lore.  I eagerly await the rebirth of the “dinosaur” from its amber-encased DNA.  Or will it be a dragon?   Names make a difference.

None the less, we proceed without caution, for the night-watch has been relieved of its duties as the evening of human history encroaches.  Isolated voices cry out, “There may be a problem here!” and anxiety is ubiquitous, but few are willing to “get real.”  This is not an accident.  The “real” tools, nay, the “real” weapons with which we might have fought were long ago taken away and beaten, not into plowshares, but into the bars of zoological confinement for what remains of the dignity of Man.  The “real” tools were realistic in a properly philosophical sense, exalting created kinds as the unalterable building blocks from which God created our world.  Such was Man.  Hence the necessity of having a personal name for the species.

Will Man come again?  I think so, but more on the basis of faith than calculation.  In the meantime others look towards a rapidly accelerating future, and begin to realize that “Nature” is hardly a better idol than secular Man, that the sense of “nature-in-itself” is an illusory effect of what psychologists call normalcy bias.  None the less, something is approaching, we know not what.  Intellectuals call it “the end of history” while technologists speak of “the singularity.”  Most just ignore it, but it will come nonetheless.

Suddenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, Evolution, History, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The Surprising Salvation in Salvador Dali!

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 27, 2017

Art (1930AD) catches up to Augustine (400AD)

For several decades had I tried, without much success, to understand the work of Salvador Dali.  And “if” (the obligatory caveat) I understand his work now, that is only because my fumbling around finally located the key to Dali, a key hidden in plain sight, and a key which I am willing to share with you now.

Dali was a Christian.

Pay no attention to the fact that Dali wasn’t your kind of Christian.  Dali wasn’t anybody’s kind of Christian, except Dali’s and (hopefully) Christ’s.  Nominally, he was a Spanish Catholic, and while nobody has ever doubted that he was very Spanish, the assessment of Dali’s Catholicism remains dubious.  Towards the end of his life the priest assigned to Dali “suggested” he illustrate the Jerusalem Bible.  These illustrations, while excellent, were hardly Dali’s best, and show uncharacteristic restraint.  Evidently Dali was put on some sort of spiritual diet, and in the process of “trying to be good” produced, predictably, good rather than great art.

When I mention Dali’s Christian art, I don’t mean his sunset productions as a Biblical illustrator, but those most tortured and characteristic works which the whole world recognizes as Daliesque.   To me, and I’m hardly alone, this art initially seemed utterly grotesque, or at best interesting as a stage in art history.  I vastly preferred Classical art, and some of the more lean and geometrical modern works.   However I was wary of the surrealists, and for that matter, today I’m more wary of them than ever.   Yet I have come to love Dali.

What changed was my perception of Dali.  I no longer hold him to either the cannons of Classical or Modern art.  I see him as a Christian artist, mediating the dispute of the ancients and and moderns, and overcoming both.

Keep in mind that Dali was always respectful of (or if “respect” is too un-Dali, “consciously indebted to”) Classical art.  In particular, he lionized Vermeer and Velasquez.  This must have irritated the artistic and literary radicals of  the mid-20th century.  The best thing that George Orwell (more sympathetic than most) could say was that Dali could pose as “a great draftsman.”  Modernists portrayed classicism as pictorial realism which had been rendered obsolete by the invention of photography.  Hence to imitate the classics was to reduce oneself to the level of a draftsman…an artist’s apprentice.

However the Christian critique of Classical art goes much deeper, in that, from the point of view of Christian witness to the effects of sin, any Classical “realism” is a lie.  However pious a Michaelangelo or even a Vermeer might be in private, the public image of their art remains essentially pagan, a portrayal of the beautiful surface of reality.  A panting like “The Artist in His Studio” by Vermeer, is either trivial or Platonic.  At worst it is trivial, a kind of pre-photograph which entertains us with the glimmering play of light on human and artificial surfaces.  At best, it is a Platonic illustration of timeless perfection, which unfortunately ignores the sin nature of both the artist and the subject.

This is the kind criticism of pagan art which Augustine of Hippo (c. 400AD) would have understood.  My hypothesis is that the young Dali had some similar inkling when he was a young man transiting from the drafting table to the surrealist salon.  Of course Dali was no theologian at the time, and whether he ever became one is a matter of conjecture.  But his intuition told him that representative art was either trivial or a lie, and thus to overcome Classical art, Dali would have to bear his cross and descend into hell.  And thus he entered the hell of surrealism.

Dali’s Divine Comedy

Here I must treat Dali’s decent into hell as a parenthesis.  The whole story is best categorized under the rubric of Cultural Marxism and sundry systems which have substituted the worship of the human mind and society for that of Abraham’s God.  I have written elsewhere, and at length, on this subject, and pending God’s permission, may do so in the future.  Suffice to say that Dali learned all the techniques of the diabolical arts and propaganda better than his masters themselves.  This greatly irritated them at the time and increasingly thereafter.

At the risk of oversimplification, a risk that I will harrow in preference to ambiguity, the surrealists were developing a technology which they hoped would drive men and women mad, not just as individuals, but in the mass, through the propagation of mass-art.  Today we are inured to the aftereffects of surrealism, in venues as diverse as European politics and American advertising.  We dismiss the MAD men as little more than a toponymic pun and reassure ourselves that nobody ever got food poisoning from watching a can of Andy Warhol’s soup.  However at its inception, the surrealist movement developed a toxic concentrate of images which were intended to drug the senses and more particularly to destroy the “common sense” of Western Civilization.  Today we can see that they, in collusion with other forces, have been quite successful.  However it took more time than the surrealists (mostly “revolution now” types) were willing to envision, which in turn has obscured their cause on our effect.

But for the moment, let’s voyage back to the mid-20th century, back to Dali.  Gradually it became clear that either Dali was not a genuine surrealist or that (as per Dali’s own view) he was the only surrealist and the others were all frauds.  Beyond the name-calling, what was really going on?  The surrealists expected Salvador Dali to put his technique at the service of their ideology.  However for Dali surrealism wasn’t an ideology, just another technique for the artist to command.  The Marxists and Nihilists could never understand this.  You aren’t supposed to be able revolt against the revolution or to annihilate nothingness.

Yet Dali did precisely that, through the employ of his not-so-secret weapon…humor.  Like Dante, he had descended into hell and emerged on the other side of the world, the side of God.  However there is a great difference between Dante’s Divine Comedy and that of Salvador Dali, i.e., the latter is actually funny.  Dante edifies but Dali entertains.

Yet there is a serious side to Dali as well.  Armed with two contrasting techniques, Classical realism and Surrealist illusion, the Spaniard was able to work in high fidelity to the message of the scriptures.  Humanity is indeed distorted and grotesque, an agent of sin descended from generations of twisted experience in the vicissitudes of time and lust.  None the less, the primal image of God is never quite erased.  Classical form remains as the necessary substance which perpetuates human existence, even when that existence has been twisted into monstrosities.  From this duality emerges an authentic picture of the human condition, a picture which neither Modernity nor Classicism on their own can portray.

Like his great predecessor El Greco, Dali distorts the classic form.  But while El Greco could only distort along one dimension (height, and that perhaps due to an ocular distortion) Dali could distort along multiple dimensions.  To give the devil his due, Dali learned this as a journeyman surrealist. Consequently, in Dali we see the painful weaving together of Humanity it both its fallen and its original state.  That this groaning of the  fallen world creates pleasure, even levity, when viewed as art is one of the enigmas of Dali, and not just of Dali but of that larger mystery of Christ in which that artist participated as a witness.

Posted in Art, Christianity, culture, Media, Politics, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Constitutional Contrary or Conundrum? The Imperial Presidency vs. the Unitary Executive

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 4, 2017

Strong President, Weak President

Setting boundaries and limits to power is the essence of politics in a republic.  No Latin word was ever belabored more than imperium in the era prior to Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon.  Originally it referred to the “sphere of power” which was exercised by a magistrate, great or small, beyond which the office holder infringed upon the rival authority of some other elected official.  With the atrophy of the Republic, it became a personal noun, the Imperator, the root of our term for a King of Kings, an “Emperor.”  The word, thus transformed, described a  person who’s “sphere of power” had become the whole world, thus annihilating the use to which its root had once been put, namely, to define and limit power.

Last year I predicted that Donald Trump, if elected President, would not become a fascist dictator, an “Emperor” so to speak.  Rather, the tremendous forces arrayed against him would ensure that the office would be brought to heel to a much greater degree than those who fear an Imperial Presidency are wont to imagine.  None the less, even I have been surprised by the extent of the weakness in the executive.  If we have passed any Rubicon, it seems rather that we have passed over from a concealed, to an open, form of oligarchy.

One way of coming to grips with this non-revolution is to admit from the outset that 1) the Imperial Presidency, and 2) the unitary executive, are contraries, not complements.  If we were to talk about official spheres of power with the fastidiousness of the ancient Romans, we might call the first, the President’s “lateral power” and the second the President’s “upright power.”  Imagine that presidential power is a rectangle of fixed area which loses depth whenever it is stretched horizontally.  I know that is a rather strange image to put in the service of a radical hypothesis, but bear with me.

Why the unitary executive is a great Constitutional doctrine

Generally when we ( and by “we”I mean, libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, natural rights advocates, strict constructionists, etc.) hear the word “president” modified by the word “strong” we go into a fit of moral indignation, if not outright hysteria.  Yes, generally heads of state should be weak, lest they turn into tyrants.  However the American presidency is a unique institution, one which the founders of the Republic intended as a safeguard of liberty, just as much as the legislative and judicial branches.  To begin with, the very notion that the American president is a “head of state” is an extra-Constitutional notion, one which arises from the necessity of adjusting American nomenclature to the standards of  diplomacy.  Indeed, since the Congress is our premier branch of government, the Speaker of the House has a fairly good claim to be the federal head of state, on the analogy of parliamentary systems.

Leaving aside the symbolic, and rather silly, issue of heads of state, let’s turn to a more fundamental question which impacts on the idea of the unitary executive.  Each of the branches of the Federal government must conduct its internal affairs in hermetic isolation of the other, while being in constant cooperation as corporate bodies to conduct the governance of these United States.  Naturally, each of the branches will attempt to extend its sphere of authority, or what the Romans called, their imperium.

Now the matters which are of concern to each branch are well spelled out in the Constitution, but each of the branches always attempts to grow its authority by multiplying those things by which it exerts authority.   Thus the legislative branch attempts to grow its authority by increasing the volume and complexity of legislation, while the judicial branch attempts to grow its authority through the multiplication of rulings, judgements, and injunctions.  On the other hand, it is primarily the executive branch which attempts to grow its authority through the multiplication of offices.  Sad to note, but the three branches may remain evenly balanced while all of them grow in concert, disrupting the larger balance between governmental and non-governmental institutions in civil society.

Whatever cure there might be for the exponential growth of government in the legislative and judicial spheres, the theory of the unitary executive provides both a unique analysis and possible cure for burgeoning bureaucracy.  How so?

Strictly speaking, in the American republic there can never be more than one government officer at a given time.  The name of this officer is the President of the United States!

Oh yes, if you must quibble, there is also a deputy in case of death or incapacitation, the anomalous Veep.  None the less, two officers is a pretty strict limit for the bureaucracy of a large republic.  It reminds one of the twin consuls of Rome, a historical precedent which was never far from the thoughts of the American founders.  In terms of modern political theory we have arrived at genuine “minarchism”…an ungainly word which has been coined to express the most limited of limited governments.

Of course, for true unity of will and purpose, a person can never really trust anyone else to do their own job.  Hence the most pristine unitary executive would be one in which the President did all the work of executive branch personally.  We can imagine a President who, dispensing with the service of a secretary, was able to handle all executive correspondence personally.  (NB: The reason we can imagine it is that we live in a world of word processors, computers, and the internet.)  However other things, such as warfare, might be a bit more tricky, unless our chief magistrate had the strength of the Biblical Samson or a modern-day comic super-hero.

So to be on the realistic side, even our pristine unitary executive would, of necessity, need to contract out for a few staffers.  Hopefully these would all be temporary workers.  After all, the chief magistrate himself is a temporary worker, limited to four, or at the maximum, eight years of employment by the American people.

Now before you dismiss this as nothing more than utopian swamp fever, perhaps we should take a look at the way the doctrine of the unitary executive has played out in the history of the Republic.

 

The historical roots of a weakening unitary executive

Unfortunately, while the imperial Presidency is the most realistic of real-political realities, the concept of a “unitary executive” is little more than a constitutional doctrine which has had to go hat in hand through the corridors of history in search of application.  To put the theory in its clearest form, the unitary executive is the President himself, who is at once both the only employee of the American people, and also the boss of every federal office holder outside of the Congress and the Judiciary.  The theory seemed most incarnate in the reign of those generals who seemed to be able to wield their authority with the same imperious might in the Oval Office as on the battlefield.  One thinks of Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt.

That was then, and now is now, when Mr. Trump’s executive leadership seems more like an exercise in herding cats.  Yet people with even a tad of historical lore under their skulls recognize that The Donald didn’t suddenly fumble the unitary executive to the horror of his fans and the delight of his detractors.  Common wisdom suggests that the unitary executive began to unravel, at the very latest, in the aftermath of the Watergate (1973) scandals.  Legislation which sought to limit the presidential imperium resulted in severe checks on arbitrary presidential power.  However these reforms failed to check arbitrary governmental power in general, or to stave off the multiplication of executive projects, expenditures and offices.  Rather, by setting up checks and balances within the executive branch of the federal government, they added to the executive bureaucracy.  And this went to the extent that the “special prosecutors” who were the plumb in the cake of the post-Watergate reforms threatened to become a “Fourth Branch” of trans-Constitutional governance.

Those who can see beyond the historical horizon of Watergate are more likely to see the first unraveling of the unitary executive in the New Deal, and the multiplication of those “alphabet agencies” such as the ICC, TVA, and NRA, each of whom were endowed with judicial as well as executive authority.  Yet an earlier starting point is the Progressive era, which saw the rise of the intellectual in the federal administration, a creature who was less likely to be constrained by, or even understood by, whatever folksy president inherited the legacy of those hybrid characters like Wilson who both studied and practiced administration.

Loyalty vs. Merit

However these movements were actually just footnotes to the unitary executive’s original fall from grace, which coincided with the rise of a merit based civil service.  It was the Pendelton Act of 1878 which consolidated the system of permanently employed government service.  After that there was little reason to think that officers would be loyal to a politician who’s term of office was likely to be far shorter than the duration of their career.   Like all sea changes in the policy of the republic, the effect of this reform was not immediately apparent.  After all, presidents in the late 19th century were just expected to be “weak.”  Think Grover Cleveland.

Today, because we read history from public school textbooks, the pre-reform civil service gets a bad press.  Typically it is referred to as the “spoils system” which conjures up images (not entirely unsubstantiated) of bribery and largess.  However there is another side to this issue.  We should at least try to be “Mugwumps” that fanciful word for a person who was willing to consider the merits and demerits of a permanent civil service.  In the interests of fairness, I would like to exercise a bit of Mugwumpery and dub the temporary civil servant system the “Loyalty System.”  After all, the politically appointable (and removable) civil servant would at least have no vested interest sabotaging the chief executive who, unlike him or herself, was directly chosen through the electoral mechanisms of the Republic.

In certain moods our progressives and our conservatives might even agree that disloyalty is a bad thing and moreover presidents should at least have the chance to formulate policy on their own turf before being challenged by either the courts or the legislature.  However there is a libertarian remnant which stubbornly insists that a strong president is a bad president, and indeed that a strong administration is nothing more than a step along the primrose path to empire.

However, as illogical as it may seem, the presidency became “weak” before it became imperial.  After WWI and as the 20th century wore on, there was need to have an emperor to complement the existence of an empire.  However the discipline of the bureaucracy which manifested itself at this time was not due to the charismatic appeal of those politicians who became, willy-nilly, chief magistrates of the republic.  Rather, it was due to the professional association of those who had a vested interest in the expansion of state power, both internationally and domestically.  Presidential orders were obeyed because presidents of whatever party were (to a greater or lesser extent)  aligned with the expansion of a robust administrative state. In 1952 Sen. Taft of Ohio lost the Republican nomination against General Dwight Eisenhower.  Taft was the last mainstream presidential candidate to seriously challenge the operational premise of expanding state power.  Barry Goldwater and Ron Paul would later mount doomed, albeit educational, campaigns dedicated to challenging that same premise.

Then in 2016 Donald Trump was elected after campaigning on many of the same anti-statist planks that animated Taft, Goldwater, Paul and (very inconsistently) Reagan.  Trump had the good sense to mix his contrarian rhetoric with a dash of jingoist appeal.  So far, the bureaucracy is in somewhat less than full scale revolt.  But only a very naive observer would be surprised that the doctrine of the unitary executive has been utterly abrogated.

The not-so-deep-state and the demise of the unitary executive

Today when “deep state” has become a household expression, it is easy to substitute James Bond intrigue for fundamental political analysis.  No doubt there is a great deal of skulduggery going on in high places these days, but the unitary executive would have floundered without any alienation between the Oval Office and the intelligence services.  It is not just the Praetorian Guard who are in revolt, but the clerks…and there are a lot of clerks.  It is not just a cabal, but the system, a system in which managers are independent of elected policy-makers.  In the EU this system appears in its most naked form.  In the US it still has to make end runs around the remains of a Constitutional Republic.

As Richard Weaver said, “Ideas have consequences!”  One of the great, pure, ideas of the 19th century was civil service reform.  However in creating a permanent state independent of politics, civil service reform ensured that all future reforms would be bound inside the parameters of the managerial state.  The owl of Minerva takes flight at night, and only now do we see the luster of those single-minded individuals whom the progressives have been eager to denounce as dictators-in-waiting.  The aristocratic Washington, the Jacobin Jefferson, mean old Andy Jackson, the imperious Polk and (though they were already compromised by the permanent state) later figures such as Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

Finally, we can at last see the wisdom of the Founders in endowing one third of the federal government with a vestige of monarchy.  At very worst a monarchy, but never, ever, an empire, since a strong individual, unencumbered by bureaucracy and backed by the people, might indeed succeed in ruling the daily affairs of one nation…but then it would be bedtime.

 

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