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Escoffier on “Was Marriage 1.0 Dysgenic?”

Nova has covered the religious objections to the “Marriage 1.0 is Dysgenic” thesis, and he asked me to say a few words about what (non-corrupt) philosophy might say.

The gist of the thesis seems to be another reductionist account of man. Two such ideas are equated, first the homo economicus or “rational actor” thesis of the economists—man always seeks to maximize his monetary well-being in the most efficient manner possible—and second, a kind of social Darwinism centered around “good genes”, the latter defined as more or less the brutish or assertive side of alpha.

In no particular order:

First—and this is a very common problem in ’sphere discourses—it is far from evident that characteristically “thug alpha” traits are in fact “eugenic.”  Yet too often the ’sphere seems to take this for granted: “alpha” is better.  Well, some is and some isn’t; and sometimes some is, and other times it isn’t.  And sometimes one kind of alpha is good while at other times it is bad, and other times other kinds of alpha are good or necessary, but harmful elsewhere.  In other words, it’s not so simple and depends very much on a range of circumstances.

It’s been pointed out many times that beta traits are the sine qua non of civilization.  If we hold civilization to be good (an important philosophic point to which I will return) then it must follow that those traits which are essential to the establishment and maintenance of civilization must also be good (in the sense of necessary to a higher good) and hence cannot be “dysgenic.”  That these traits are not always attractive to women, and are often even actively repulsive to women—this alone does not make them “dysgenic.”  Rather, what it suggests is that women’s attraction vectors, for whatever reason, sometimes and in some ways veer toward the dysgenic and way from the eugenic.

Broadly speaking, three possible reasons for this seemingly perverse “veering” away from the stable and good are proffered: the ev-psych, the Biblical, and the classical-philosophic explanations.  The latter two have much in common.  The first seems to stand out.

The underlying assumption of the ev-psych explanation is that humans are simply bio-mechanical beings (“bio-mechanics is God”) seeking to reproduce and nothing else.  Hence, if thug-alpha traits are more effective at spreading seed, then they are “eugenic.”  If civilizational-beta traits are not as effective at spreading seed, they are “dysgenic,” full stop.  Now, the obvious problem with this is that it assumes that man is no different in kind, only in degree, from the other animals—we are nothing more than exceptionally clever apes.  This is incoherent on a number of levels which I will address.

The Biblical explanation for why women are attracted to thug traits is that women, no less than men, have a fallen nature, but that women have particular failings of their own.  That is, human nature is itself fallen in ways that are common to both sexes, and then it is also fallen in ways that are specific to or characteristic of each sex.  And that of course includes women as well as men.

This idea has been hashed through thoroughly in recent posts on Dalrock’s blog and I am semi-convinced that it is THE most important insight that the ’sphere has to offer our blinkered contemporary discourse.  We contemporary people have no problem whatsoever naming, describing, ridiculing, and reveling in all the ways men can be pigs.  It’s one of the most persistent themes of pop culture.  But we are in absolute full denial that there are any vices that are characteristic of the female sex. This may be THE biggest blind spot in our culture.

I and others have bumped up against resistance to this idea many times among nominally “red pill” women bloggers and commenters.  Many of them simply bristle at any suggestion that women have their own characteristic vices which men in general do not share.  They especially bristle at the suggestion that any of those vices were sexual in nature.  According to this view, which is really the broad cultural view, there human vices such as greed, pettiness, envy and such, which are common to both sexes.  And then there are some characteristically male vices, such as a propensity for violence.  But there NO corresponding or parallel characteristically female vices.  And, really, the acknowledgement that even females are subject to the basic human vices is often nothing more than lip service.  Women, like the culturati generally, know that the reality of sin in both sexes must be acknowledged to maintain credibility.  Like the way anyone who’s proud of a particular person or nation or institution says “Of course X has done some bad things, who hasn’t, but look at his fantastic record of A, B, C and so on and on.”  Everything before the word “but” is just rhetoric to deflect a likely attack or rejoinder.  What the culture really believes is that women are FAR less prone even to the vices common to both sexes than are men.  This fits in with Dalrock’s frequent criticism of Christian leaders who insist that women are inherently pure.

The truth about vice is, it seems to me, is that there are vices that are more or less evenly spread across both sexes.  Then there are vices which both sexes share but that are more prevalent in one or the other. And finally there are vices that are characteristic—not merely prevalent but characteristic—of one sex or the other.

The culture can admit the second and third points, but only when it comes to men.  This is a long digression and I’m going to make it slightly longer, but where does that come from?  The roots are deep but I want to examine one of the upper layers for a moment.  Basically, it’s obvious to anyone who’s not a complete idiot that men are responsible for nearly everything tangible that makes up civilization—whether that be technology, cities, sewage systems, running water, the arts, literature—everything.  Hence there is an implicit acknowledgement that men must be superior, at the very last at the non-trivial task of building and maintaining civilization.  You don’t even have to say this aloud or make any kind of argument.  All you have to do is be awake enough to notice that men have built and done all this stuff and women have not and the mind naturally admires these accomplishments more than their lack.  And so the mind defaults to admiring men more than women.

Or, look at it this way.  Imagine humans finally learn to do interplanetary travel and we find a plant with two very similar looking beings.  They look almost the same.  But one set of them has built cities and a civilization and the other set of them is living in caves and trees.  We would naturally, instantly, unconsciously classify the first set as superior and the second as inferior.

And the fact (if it is a fact) that men would not or could not have done all they have done without women around is irrelevant to this point.  The fact remains that men are the efficient cause of civilization.  Male hands built it and maintain it.  Everyone sees this with their own two eyes.

This sense then that men are winners or are superior collides with various late modern corruptions of certain older ideals, not least equality, humility and noblesse oblige.  The equality point is obvious.  If all people are equal, and if the sexes are equal, then only two conclusions can follow: either civilization is just not that important, not important enough so that the building and maintenance of it is enough to make men superior to women; or else the reason men have accomplished so much relative to women must be oppression.  I.e., either the alleged accomplishment is not really an accomplishment at all; or if it is, it is the result of injustice.  Actually there is a third response which is relatively trivial, and that is to troll through history to find examples of female accomplishment which demonstrate equality and allege that they are under-appreciated because of oppression.  The obvious problem with this line of thinking is that there just aren’t that many examples.  And once you exhaust the genuine ones that really are on a par with the peaks of male accomplishment (e.g., the novels of Austen or the statesmanship of Elizabeth I), you have to start elevating lesser examples and alleging that they are equal to men’s; for instance, Mary Cassat = Monet (nothing against Cassat, I like her work, but she is not a top-rank artist).  And EVEN THEN you run out of examples fairly quickly.  You become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of male accomplishment with respect to female, at every level.  See, for instance, Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment for a vivid cataloguing of this point.

So, again, of these three options, the first blows itself out fairly quickly when thought through.  The idea that civilization is valueless, beyond being absurd, is contradicted every day by the way people live.  Nearly all of us don’t want to revert to “noble savagery” even though a small minority of intellectuals still romanticize it (it’s not a coincidence that the root philosopher of the noble savage, Rousseau, is also the implicit founder of the Romantic movement),  So that one goes pretty quickly.  The third is really just an exercise in tu quoquebean counting.  It’s enough to sustain some trivial academic careers and has been very corruptive of intellectual discourse but it’s ultimately not that powerful.

That leaves the second: oppression.  This remains very popular in our time and it plays into the other element that I mentioned.  If men are obviously superior—whether that arises from nature or oppression—then it must follow then men have an obligation to be gracious about that—self-deprecating, modest, humble, deferential, and so forth.  (I want to pause to point out another contradiction, namely that even if the differential in accomplishment is owing to oppression, then there must be SOME ways in which men are superior because oppression requires that.  The weak do not oppress the strong without the strong’s consent.  This argument can devolve into an apologia for tyranny and I don’t want to digress further, merely to point out the problem.)

 All right, so men are obviously superior to women in nearly all forms of human accomplishment, hence it’s incumbent on men to downplay or even deny their superiority.  This is akin to basic good manners of, say, a star athlete not treating all the rest of his classmates like ants, except in this case on a societal scale.

 What has gone horribly wrong, however, is that societally we have come to “believe our own bullshit” as the saying goes.  That is, what began is a kind of good manners—don’t rub women’s noses in the fact that men invented the automobile and everything else—has now reached absurd levels of denial and false counter-narrative. Now we are actually expected to believe the equality thesis even when our eyes see the opposite every day. (Again, this is a perverted idea of equality, but I won’t go into that now.)

The way this plays out in every day conversation and discourse is, we emphasize, exaggerate and even outright make up ways in which men are bad.  And we deemphasize, downplay, and even outright deny the ways in which women are or can be bad.  Tear down the strong, build up the weak.  The initial impulse to do so is again good manners, coupled with the idea that our belief in the moral principle of equality demands as much.  But naturam expelles furcatamen usque recurret.  No matter how much we try to equalize the sexes, natural inequality keeps reasserting itself.  So before long it’s evident that it’s not enough for men to be a little deferential and to help out the ladies on the margins.  No, we have to actively tamp men down and actively prop women up.  And even that doesn’t equalize things.  So the pressure is always on for more, more, more.  More punitive actions against men, and more subsidies and AA and so on for women.  What Dalrock calls the “massive pumping operation” to level the waters.  Even with the pumps running 24/7, the waters still don’t even out fully.

That is, in my view, the top-layer explanation of why we insist on bashing men in all public discourse and pedestalizing women.  The same dynamic incidentally works for every group which exhibits different (inferior) outcomes again and again across a range of issues: lionize that group’s achievements, elevate the trivial ones to the level of real achievement, deny all its shortcomings, attack anyone who brings them up.

All right, back on track now.  The third explanation for why women’s attraction triggers veer in unhelpful directions is the classical-philosophic, which rather frankly says that while women are no less human than men, they are nonetheless less rational, and rationality is THE defining trait of man.  This is all rather shocking to modern ears, which is but one reason why classical philosophy is either condemned, or else this point is simply skipped, as if it didn’t exist.  Or, dismissed as “a product of their times.”  I’ve been looking into this for a while now, after 25+ years of reading the classics, and while there is not much, I have found things that are highly consistent with ’sphere findings, above all that passage in Xenophon that I blogged about for this site.

So where is this going?  Basically, the Biblical idea that man is made in the image of God and the classical teaching that man is not a mere animal but the highest of the earthly beings precisely because of his reason or logos are highly compatible, not to say identical.  Surely, “image of God” does not mean that God has arms and legs and a head.  Rather, it means that God is a thinking being, a moral being, a contemplative being who grasps the whole—the material essence of the whole and the meaning or normative aspects of the whole—both the IS and the OUGHT.  Man is made in the image of God in that he can do the same things, obviously to magnitudinally lesser degree, but the scope of the inquiry, the outline of the things under study, is the same.

What this means, and I apologize for how long it’s taken me to get to this, the decisive point, is that man is not merely another animal but the difference between man and beast is fundamentally one of kind, not degree.  The same type of gap that separates man from the beast, and sets man above the beasts, also separates man from God and sets him below God.

Hence, civilizationally useful traits cannot be “dysgenic” for man as man but only for man as beast.  The very claim that the species thrives when thug-alpha traits rule seems implausible at best even on that idea’s own terms.  For, reproductively speaking, the human population has exploded with civilization, after millennia of being comparatively tiny.  So, even by the reproductive success standard, beta traits would appear to be evolutionarily eugenic and not the opposite.

Man is what he is by virtue of his reason and the product of his reason is civilization.  Because man has a body, he has appetites, some of them low, others neutral but abusable.  Because man’s reason is imperfect, he is tempted to focus on his appetites and passions to the exclusion of his higher self.  To the extent that civilizational restraints are weak or absent, he will do this more rather than less.

For the Bible, the meaning of life is to live in harmony with God’s word and to understand the meaning of God’s word and to experience His love.  For the pagan philosophers, the meaning of life is contemplation of the whole and of the idea of the good.  There is a kinship here which is light-years away from bio-mechanical determinism.  Civilization is therefore not the very highest thing; it is a necessary but insufficient condition of the highest life.  But it is truly NECESSARY, apart from being beautiful, majestic and wonderful in itself. Hence to say that civilizational-beta traits are dysgenic is to deny the nature of man.  It is to be in unconscious league with corrosive modernity.  I never ceased to be amazed at how nearly all persistent critics of our present corruption turn out to be moderns underneath it all.  Modernity runs deep, everywhere you look or dig.

There is implicit in the idea under discussion that “nature” means—and only means—“whatever happens without thought, deliberation, choice or constraint.”  So, remove all sanction, strip away reason, and let man act according to his base appetites and passions, that is “natural.”  But man acting rationally, morally, building civilization, getting and staying married, raising and education children, creating and appreciating great art, worshiping God and so on—these things are not “natural.”  Perhaps not actively unnatural or anti-natural, but at best ancillary to nature, purely man-made and conventional.  There is, again, something of Rousseau in this, for whom civilization is the “barnacles on the statue” (Discourse on Inequality, Preface) and the purpose of the social contract is to serve as a necessary evil, to restore to man those aspects of pre-political life that can be restored within the civilizational framework.  The “clock cannot be turned back” and for Rousseau, this is a tragedy.

Ironically, Rousseau thought he was restoring, to the extent possible in the modern world, a classical understanding of man.  But it appears to me to be flatly against the classical notion of nature and, I believe, flatly wrong.  What is natural to man, above all, is what is highest in man.  It’s absurd to insist that the one being who can build civilization, read and write, philosophize and worship God—the only being in the entire universe that we know of who can do these and many other things—is acting unnaturally when he does so. These activities are natural to man and to no other physical being.

The reason we moderns are so myopically stupid on this point is that we have spent 500 years in denial of two of Aristotle’s four fundamental causes, the formal and the final causes.  The only way out of the present morass is to see clearly that classical metaphysics is true and modern metaphysics is wrong.

Finally, and this is a related point, the whole notion of “dysgenic” v. “eugenic” is inherently incoherent except on ultimately classical grounds.  For what makes one outcome “good” and the other “bad”?  We need some standard for evaluating and judging and bio-mechanics does not provide such a standard.  Only classical philosophy and the Bible do.  And the conclusion they would come to is that a world dominated by the alpha thug traits is not “good.”

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The Varieties of Power

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(Image by JDHancock, used under Creative Commons License).

Nota bene:  I’ll be shortly publishing a follow-on by Escoffier about the topic in this post.  While that follow-on is being edited for publication, I’m posting this, which is a kind of organic response to a discussion that has been taking place across a few blogs recently.

There has been some interesting discussion recently on a few blogs regarding certain aspects of power distribution between men and women.

First, let me say as a preliminary matter that while I understand the argument that viewing such things in terms of power distribution effectively buys into, or gives too much credit to, arguments, paradigms, world-views and metaphysics which are all basically wrong, nevertheless I personally find it useful to address the perspectives within their own paradigms, if only for the purpose of understanding them more fully.

Essentially, the discussion has been about power, in relative terms, between men and women over different historical eras.

Donalgraeme’s post, which contained a number of helpful diagrams, argued that, due to a biologically-based tendency in virtually all human societies to protect the female sex and enhance resource transfer to women, the “baseline” setting in any society will slope in favor of the females.   The biological basis for this is the reality that from the reproductive point of view, women are the “scarcer resource” due to the constraining limits of womb space/time resulting from gestational periods as compared with the much more readily available sperm, which is not subject to such constraints.  A more crass way of describing this is that if, in extremis, a society had 100 women and 1 man, it could survive well enough, whereas a society with 100 men and 1 woman would face substantial difficulties.  Therefore, the “natural baseline” is to protect and provide for women more than men, because they are the more precious reproductive resource required to grow a healthy tribe, etc., and men are very expendable by comparison.

It follows from this baseline that, because there is a natural disequilibrium between the value of the sexes from the reproductive point of view, societies will generally tilt towards protecting the female members in many ways.   Because of that tilt, in order to maintain any kind of parity between the sexes, even one of a complementarian nature, certain safeguards must be socially/artificially inserted into the system in favor of the male members of the society to offset the natural disequilibrium/tilt that the society will have in favor of protecting and providing for the female members as the scarcer resource.  That is, the status of the male members of the society must be elevated in some way which is not strictly biological in order to have a stable order which somewhat balances the sexes in the society and, crucially, in order to get the male participation in the society in toto which is required for it to thrive — that is, in order to avoid a Hobbesian war of all males against all other males, even within the tribe, to monopolize womb access — a situation which is highly unstable and invites invasion and takeover by other, more stable and well-ordered, tribes.

Free Northerner has objected to this analysis on the basis that because men enjoy the “hard” power in any society (they are the soldiers, the legislators, the wielders of public power), the idea that any society has a tilt towards female power, as a default setting, is nonsensical.  In this view, any power women have is simply given to them by men as an indugence, or exercised by men by proxy.  In the end, it’s the men who are in power, full stop.

In my view, that perspective, while not completely untrue as far as it goes in terms of the public aspects of power expression historically, is substantially misguided because it understands power among humans in a far too narrow way.

In other words, while that perspective is more or less accurate in the realm of direct/public/physical power, it overlooks the realm of indirect/private/influence power.  Humans are not just physical warriors, we are a social and familial species, and therefore power for us is not, and never has been, purely/only about physical power.

Under the old scheme, prior to the implementation of equality in terms of public forms of power, women had a large amount of soft power in the family/private realm, and thereby exercised not only the lion’s share of power in certain realms, but also a substantial degree of power in terms of influence over the direct realm, by means of influencing the men around them, especially in the context of families (extended, not nuclear — nuclear family is a very contemporary phenomenon). For background on this, Chinweizu Ibekwe’s book “Anatomy of Female Power” is instructive.  A PDF copy of the book is available here: http://therawness.com/anatomy-of-female-power-download-and-discussion-page/.  While I do not agree with everything Chinweizu argues in his book, nevertheless the discussion on pages 9-12 in the Introduction is a useful, and provocative, read for anyone interested in these kinds of issues.

The fact that many men have tended historically to overlook this real power by focusing instead on their own direct, “public” power has only served to augment the indirect power that women have (by providing no recognized counter) and, ultimately, led to men supporting feminism out of “fairness”.  In other words, if the only real power is the direct kind of power men generally have and express, it is only fair for this direct, public power to be shared with women, because to do otherwise would perpetuate a very unfair distribution of total power between the sexes.  It is precisely the mindset that “direct power is the only real power that matters” that has led to widespread support among men for feminism on fairness grounds.

Feminism, despite its stated goals, has not actually resulted in equality for various, and widely-disputed, reasons, but a main one is precisely because the realm of female power, which pre-existed feminism and which continues to exist today, has been overlooked or considered unimportant in the entire analysis about power between the sexes.  I would argue (although this is not the subject of this post — perhaps something to address in greater detail in a subsequent post) that this, in turn, happened because the predominant worldview in the West switched to a huge degree towards emphasizing the individual and such individual’s public self-expression, or self-actualization — a development which devalued most of the existing female spheres of power, which were more hidden, private, and influence-based, while elevating the existing male spheres of power, which were more public expressions of the self, in perceived importance.  That this would eventually necessitate a balancing of power within that specifically emphasized realm, given the concurrent devaluing of the other realm in relative terms, seems unsurprising.

So, what happened with feminism is that women were invited to share equally, more or less, in the bases of male power in the context of a society which is no longer based on raw, brute strength, but advanced technology, money and so on.  However, women retained 100% of their own pre-existing power base: sex/family/influence/culture.  The result was the disempowerment of most men vis-a-vis most women, not in the public sphere, but in the sense of total power, taking into consideration both public and private power.  The old system, which is now for the most part pejoratively dubbed “patriarchy” (again, not surprising in the context of a culture which was moving towards a one-sided emphasis on individual self-actualization and power) actually was quite equitable when viewed from the perspective of total power, because it granted men power in the sphere that made more sense for the physically stronger sex and the one with more testosterone and drive, and the only sphere in which they could actually exercise power, for biological reasons, while granting women power in the sphere that made the most sense for that sex, being the one that bears children, and in spheres where biology dictates that women will virtually always enjoy a primacy of power.  In addition, by granting men power in the public sphere, the general tilt toward favoring women as the more precious reproductive resource was offset to some extent.  However, if you allow one sex to share in the power of the other, and not vice-versa (or even admit that there IS a vice-versa to begin with), you end up with what we have today: women having a share in what was previously the male power space, but at the same time retaining virtually all of the power over the female power area, which means, in effect, on average more total power, taking into account both realms, than all but the most powerful men.

The typical feminist objection to that analysis is that they are more than happy to have men share in the female power space if men would but show sufficient interest in doing so.  Even if that were true (which it isn’t for most women in practice, leaving aside statements made largely for the sake of maintaining an argument), there really isn’t any way to “fix” that, because the female power areas largely arise due to biology, as outlined above.  The male area does as well, of course, but in a highly advanced technological society with the rule of law and so on, the natural base of that power is well circumscribed, and mostly for the good (no-one in his right mind should really want a world of Mad Max).  These changes are why women have been invited to share in the male power space to begin with:  they can now do so without the heavy lifting required in previous eras, because that has been relegated now to certain spheres in which most men themselves no longer participate en masse.  The Men’s Rights guys efforts would blunt some of the worst abuses here, but only slightly so — they can never really “make things equal”, because the female base of power is more or less completely off the table for biological reasons and, in many ways (sex/influence/culture) not subject to being manipulated through legal changes anyway.  Most men, due to the biological differences involved, simply can’t partake in the female power space, period, even if most women were willing to grant them this (which they most certainly are not).

In summary, from my perspective, to overlook the very real female power base, its enduring strength, and its continued presence up to this very day essentially plays into the mindset of the people who support(ed) feminism, because it sees only the male base of power as meaningful and significant, and therefore something which it is “unfair” for one sex to hoard.  It’s tempting for men to view it this way, because when we do, we emphasize our own power base — that’s understandable.  But it’s incorrect, and it’s also a flaw in thinking that actually enhances the female power base, precisely because it overlooks it and underestimates it, thereby permitting it to grow and retrench its power essentially without check.  It’s a mistaken approach for that reason.  In my view, when a holistic approach to power analysis is taken, a rather different picture emerges, and one which presents clearer opportunities, as well as clearer obstacles, rather than a perspective which argues that “men need to take back their power and take away the power of women”.  That isn’t going to happen in the context of human society, because of how the power bases work.  What could happen, if articulated properly, is a greater realization of the importance of total power, taking all elements into account in a holistic way, but this would require leaving behind the loyalties of many, including many in this space of the internet, towards individualism as a kind of prime directive.  It is that which has largely been our undoing here, and it is that which will need to be addressed in order to move past the current difficulties.

 

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Escoffier on Modernity and the Embarrassment of Christians

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Escoffier recently posted a comment at Dalrock’s blog which seemed useful as a standalone post.  It deals with the issue of why so many contemporary Christians appear to be embarrassed with the moral teachings of Christianity.  I’m posting it here in full for comment.  (EDIT:  I see that Donal has also posted it — that’s good, it deserves a broad audience).

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I want to add a supplementary / alternative reason to explain this embarrassment over the text of the Bible. It’s been touched on but not really fleshed out.

That is, that these nominal Christians under discussion are all moderns first and Christians second (if second). Worse, they don’t even know they are moderns, or what it means to be a modern, or what modernity is.

Modernity, to say the least, conflicts with the Bible. It was designed to, on purpose. Yet it has been so successful in taking over nearly all conscious and sub-conscious thought that hardly anyone any more recognizes it for what it is. That includes most contemporary Christians, to whom “modernity” is simply synonymous with “reality” or even “morality.”

There’s a particular strand of modernity that’s particularly relevant here, namely historicism, and specifically rational historicism (as opposed to radical or irrational historicism). This is the idea of “progress.” “Progress” is cooked into the original conception of modernity, but it came to take on a different meaning much later. Originally, it more or less just meant “We can improve the material condition of man on earth; human beings have a lot more power than either the Bible or classical philosophy will admit.”

Rational historicism takes this idea much further and posits a unidirectional progress, which is worked out through impersonal forces (the so-called historical dialectic) over which man may be an unwitting instrument, but which he didn’t design, doesn’t direct, and can’t control. “History” is nonetheless rational, moving “forward” (with occasional, necessary steps back) to ever-“better” states and eventually to an end state in which all dialectical conflicts are resolved, all moral and political problems solved, and final wisdom achieved (if not necessarily accessible to all). In pop-culture terms, the Star Trek universe is basically the cartoon version of this end state.

Nearly everyone today believes in this “arc” at least in a simplified way. The present is believed to be inherently more enlightened that the past. We Don’t Do That Anymore Because We Know Better. And the future will be inevitably more enlightened than the present.

The source of this impression is ultimately perverted or corrupted or mistaken philosophy, but one does not need to have studied philosophy at all to have been affected, even “convinced.” The astounding success of modern natural science and its offspring, technology, serves to “prove” to such people that “progress” is real and that the present is superior to the past. Technological progress is assumed to be coeval with moral and political progress.

But it is never explained why this should be so. Actually, certain modern philosophers did try to make such a case, but they hardly proved it and their case is open to serious theoretical difficulties which have been pointed out by other philosophers. However, that whole dialogue may as well never have happened as far as the average modern person is concerned. He is simply unaware of it and takes on faith that the present is morally superior to the past.

This, then, is a significant source of the embarrassment. The modern Christian (modern first, Christian second) is embarrassed by the evident conflicts between his nominal faith and his actual, if unconscious, modernity. Modernity trumps. So the offending Scriptures have to be dealt with one way or another. There are many possible ways: insist that it doesn’t say what it seems to say, come up with Rube Goldberg interpretations to square it with modernity, call it “metaphoric,” say that it was right for that time but not our time, and so on. The latter is a kind of “Living Constitution” framework for the Bible. It assumes that God has left to us the task of “updating” Scripture as the “times change.” The changing of the times is held to be the true constant, and really the true God, but only implicitly.

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The Struggle Is Spiritual

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As I have mentioned in certain comments on various blogs over the past year or so, I have gradually come to the conclusion that the current “struggles” we face concerning the “culture” — whether we are discussing the impact of the sexual revolution, the decline of religion in the public square, the increase of all kinds of license, the coarsening of society, the decline of family life, etc. — are primarily not cultural struggles at all.  And neither are they political struggles, although certain aspects of these elements have been aided and abetted by political action and legislation.

By contrast, it strikes me that the cultural and political elements we are seeing are merely manifestations of a broader spiritual struggle — a larger element which underlies these other manifestations, and unites them into a larger, cohesive, and more dangerous, whole.

This seems an odd charge to make, given that the loudest and most enthusiastic proponents on the “other side” tend to be either atheists or agnostics.

The key, however, is understanding that while these people are not “theistic believers”, they nevertheless are following what is essentially a system of moral “good” vs. moral “evil”, with the “prime moral directive” being not following the will of God, but rather removing all obstacles to the not-directly-harmful-to-others exercise of the personal volitional will.  That is, human will, or, rather, the autonomous freedom of the individual to act in accordance with his or her individual will (provided not directly harmful to others — let’s call that the “legitimate exercise of the individual will”) has become the supreme moral principle — the “god” of a non-theistic moral system, if you will.  Because of this, actions or inactions are viewed primarily through the lens of whether they promote this legitimate exercise of the human will or whether they restrict it (again, other than in ways that are necessary to prevent harm to others — which would be cases where the exercise of the human will would be considered “illegitimate”), and assigning “moral” to the first category and “immoral” to the second.  This has given birth to a new kind of “pseudo-religion” — a religion without God, centered on the individual will.

From the traditional Christian perspective, of course, this seems to be upside-down (i.e., personal will elevated to that of a pseudo-god in place of the Divine will of the actual God), but also perhaps the inevitable result of removing a supernatural God from the equation.

There is, however, a bit more to the story.

Joseph Bottum has written a new book entitled “An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America“.  An interesting review of the book by Spengler can be found here.

Bottum, formerly an editor at First Things and a longtime writer of columns in various publications, advances the thesis that contemporary progressive secularism is simply the current manifestation of mainline protestantism, albeit this time without God in the picture.  This will sound somewhat familiar to those acquainted with Moldbug’s ideas (Bottum describes, for example, the continued influence of Puritanism on the intolerant and fanatical mindsets of many in this secular progressive camp), but it also goes beyond them in asserting that the driving force in this movement is spiritual — that is, the desire to be among the “good” in some kind of transcendent way, and identifying this “good” with the public “goods” of non-discrimination, wealth distribution and the like.  That is, there is a desire to support and help achieve the “good”, for moral reasons, and thereby to become or at least be considered to be “good”, again in moral terms, by means of social activism, social progressivism and the like — all quite apart from anything relating to a transcendent, supernatural God and what His own rules might hold for personal behavior regarding things such as, eh, sex.  In effect, it is replacing those “old moral rules” with the more “enlightened”, more “evolved” morality which emphasizes personal volitional freedom (as noted above) plus these social “goods”, which are seen as moral in and of themselves.  I would add this to my own notions described above about the moral priority of the legitimate self-will, and say that the new pseudo-faith emphasizes both that *and* the furthering of social goods (many of which tend, at the same time, to further the exercise of the legitimate self-will, but which are also seen as moral ends in and of themselves).

I have not finished the book yet (more on that when I do so), but it’s highly recommended reading for anyone who really wants to understand the struggle currently taking place, and what it really is about.  It’s a spiritual struggle, a religious war, much more than a cultural or political one.  I think that this is also why the  culture war and the political war have been so generally unsuccessful.  The underlying issue — the underlying morality, the underlying war about what is moral and what is the basis for that — is a spiritual and/or religious conflict, and one being waged with all kinds of weapons as well: artistic, cultural, political, educational, bureaucratic/corporate, etc.  I think this is often missed by many on “our side” of this conflict, because we tend to see the other side as “Godless narcissists”, when in fact they view themselves as the truly moral people who have progressed beyond the morality we have, which they consider to be primitive, obsolete and practically Neanderthal in nature.  In other words, far from perceiving themselves as Godless narcissists, they instead see themselves as morally more advanced, and see our side as being retrograde, backwards, and obstinate in both of these, in moral terms, and therefore, by their own moral standards, fundamentally immoral and evil.

That is the nature of the fight.  It’s why the fight has been, and continues to be, so uncivil.  Religious wars are generally not very civil for the precise reason that the enemy is not merely wrong, but morally wrong and therefore not only personally evil but furthering the cause of evil in the world at large — something that therefore cannot be tolerated in the least, but which must be totally defeated and preferably annihilated from the face of the earth, for the earth’s own good and the good of everyone everywhere.  This is precisely the kind of “totalism” that characterizes this struggle, and which has done so for some time.  It will continue to do so in the years ahead, as the new pseudo-religion — which is rampant among the rising millenial generation — becomes more brazen, hegemonic and increasingly aggressively intolerant of the moral evil (in its view) posed by traditional Christians.

More to come in subsequent posts once I have finished the book.

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Athens and Jerusalem in Dialogue II: The Reformation and Its Wake

It’s an interesting discussion, I think.  I’ll touch first a bit on the King issue, and then on your last parallels there about the odd synchonicity of Machiavelli and the Reformation.

First, about King.

I think King’s substance was never really his issue — I do think that the more informed and balanced people agree that internet posts only get you so far in terms of really affecting change in the world at large.  For many participants, it rather has the opposite impact — namely, it provides a kind of steam release valve, or an outlet for venting, which in the grander scheme dissipates their ire, and channels their desire for change into internet posting rather than towards the things that must be changed in the world outside the window.  Doubtless this is true, and he was quite right to point that out.

I think the main problem he ran into was his means of articulating himself.  I understand his intent was to challenge, but in the context of anonymous people on the internet, that approach likely won’t yield too much success.  Perhaps it works if you are a football coach or a drill sergeant or something like that, but when you are dealing with strangers on the internet, it’s doubtful that this kind of harangue is actually effective.

Hopefully he can find a better way to do what he would like to do, and be more effective in targeting for his audience.  He has some of the tools of a good writer, but he would do well, in my view, to go for simple and elegant rather than adopting a style which too often seems to be quite obviously striving to be clever and seem intelligent.  He obviously *is* intelligent and fairly well-read, but a better writer would find ways of expressing that erudition in more pithy, down to earth, and elegant way.  More Hemingway, and less Proust.  Also, more focused on the kind of style you need for the audience you are trying to reach.

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It’s an interesting point on the odd temporal symmetry between the very beginning of the Reformation in Germany and the publication of Machiavelli’s most influential works.  1517 and its aftermath was truly one of the inflection points of history, and the impact of the event and its wake, in quite real terms, on the contemporary cultural situation in the West is widely underestimated, if not outright misunderstood.  In part  I think this is because the historical memory, when it comes to the Reformation, is itself mixed among various countries and cultures of the West, precisely because it was, and is, a source of division in the culture.  However, this often has resulted in making it a kind of “off limits”  or taboo topic — something which can serve to obscure the fundamental role it has played in forming the foundation for many of the contemporary attitudes that so many find so troubling.

From my own perspective, the impact of the Reformation on subsequent Western history was both collosal and wide-ranging.  It impacts directly almost all of the issues people on this side of the orientational fence, as it were, are troubled about, on a foundational level.  At the same time it appears to create hard limits on the ability of many actually to see down to the root of the problems, and what underlies them, because doing so would challenge an aspect of their own identity which is foundational, and which they perceive as running counter to the problems that trouble them, and instead render this problematic at the very least.  In other words, one of the main problems involved with coming to grips with the issue of the underlying impact of the Reformation on contemporary culture, particularly in the United States but also elsewhere in the West, is that most Christians in the United States are children of the Reformation who revere the Reformation, or at least see it as a fundamental good, and as something that is a part of both their spiritual and historical identity.  So, if one starts to describe the problems that the Reformation injected into Christianity in the West, and into Western spiritual thought and practice, and the various strands of influence this has had on cultural development in the West for the last 500 years, one can very quickly get a rather knee-jerk and negative response — because these are Reformation Christians, or at the very least people who see the Reformation as being fundamentally positive and good.  Hence the problem with this kind of discussion.

Of course it’s quite true that, as you have written, the Reformation’s pragmatic impact of dividing the West religiously was damaging to the ability of Chirstianity’s contemporaneous representatives of either camp to resist more effectively the growing attacks of the anti-theistic philosophers.  As a practical matter, division leads to weakness.  In this, however, the Reformation is part of a longer problematic history within Christianity of division leading to weakness with grave consequences as a result.  From my perspective, for example, it is quite appropriate to argue that, had the great schism between the eastern and western parts of the Catholic Church never happened, or had it been repaired relatively quickly, the events and developments within the medieval West which eventually led to the pressures that gave rise to the Reformation, as well as the disastrous demise of Constantinople in the East a few decaded earlier, may never have come to pass.  But that’s a topic for another post, if and when I have the time to write it.  Suffice to say that, yes, division in and of itself leads to rather disastrous outcomes in the temporal world, some of which go well beyond any kind of capacity to predict at the time the division occurs.

Yet the specific kinds of impacts of the Reformation which I see as being more influential over the past five centuries of history in the West, while stemming ultimately from the fruitless division created by the Reformation, lie in other areas — areas which have tended to facilitate the rise of anti-theistic rationalism to the state of its current hyper-dominance in Western culture.  While these areas are far-flung and encompass virtually all aspects of our contemporary culture, for the purposes of this note I’d like to focus on one key aspect — the attitude of the Reformation toward authority, and the impact this has had on the relationship between Christianity and the temporal world in the West (including anti-theistic secularist thought).

In this aspect, and in very broad brush, the Reformation was an assault on the existing system of religious authority — specifically the religious authority of the Catholic Church — and the replacement of that personal, hierarchical authority with the authority of a text.  This critical element — that is, the undermining of a unified religious authority — cascades down the trail of the subsequent history of the West.  Of course, nothing in history is fore-ordained, but the groundwork and the subsequent trends, and the connections between them, are unmistakeable. 

Even within the framework of the religion itself, when you make a text your highest authority, with no dispositive-for-everyone interpreter of said text, you end up with both (1) an endless (and in fact, impossible to end) tendency towards division due to the inevitable proliferation of textual interpretations and (2) a religious experience which is very heavily bent towards the cerebral without any inherent corrective.  Point (1) is why we have a different “flavor” of church on every streetcorner, all with their own versions of the truth, all with disagreements with each other about things which seem trivial to non-Christians (and also to many Christians as well!).  Point (2) is why American Protestantism in particular has constantly had waves of the opposite — emotion-based versions of Christianity, either Pentecostalism, or some kind of revivalism, to counterbalance the comparatively cold textualism of established Protestant Christianity. ( This also informs much of the contours of the “lower” less liturgical forms of Protestant worship services.)   So you end up with a situaton where the religion itself is inherently weakened by division, and which is institutionally utterly incapable of ending the process of division — like some kind of cancerous mitosis it simply keeps spreading its divisiveness.  And the resulting myriad of churches which are spawned by this process tend to careen between a kind of textual fundamentalism (after all, there is no authority beyond the text itself, no living body of authoritativeness beyond the text beyond the power of any individual interpreter to persuade, so if the text is not adhered to strictly, authority itself is undermined with no replacement), on the one hand, and a kind of apocalyptic emotionalism (as a corrective to the relatively cold and cerebral text-based religion), on the other.

The impact of this on the broader Western world and culture beyond religious belief and practice itself has been enormous and in many respects profoundly negative.  With respect to the specific issues you’ve addressed (the victory of anti-theistic philosophers over religion, and the tendency for religion to remove itself from the concerns of the world), these are traceable to the legacy of the Reformation.  As you’ve noted, in part the problem with philosophy and religion in the modern era is that philosophy (anti-theistic philosophy at least) kicked religion’s ass, in a way, because religion came poorly equipped to the fight.  One large reason for this is that the textual authority mindset is, in itself, uninterested in philosophy or philosophical reasoning as a baseline for discourse on these issues.  Instead, all arguments must proceed from, and be validated by, the overaching authority of a text.  This stands in sharp contrast to the prior practice and mode of discourse of Christianity vis-a-vis philosophical argument — whether in the period of the early Church, or later during the scholastic period in the West.  While Nazianzen and Aquinas may not have been personally equipped to address the kinds of arguments that would be raised by Descartes, Voltaire and others, had the mindset of engaging with philosophy been maintained, both in substance and in language, in a more full sense, religion would have had a much better chance in this fight.  A more holistic approach to religion — a more catholic approach — was, and is, needed to deal with this kind of challenge.  A textual authority based approach is simply not equipped to do this, precisely because its own mode of discourse is estranged from that used by the philosophers and their related empiricists in the scientific world. 

A few objections may be raised at this point.  What of the liberal mainline protestants who are all about social justice?  What about people like Francis Collins — doesn’t he engage in dialogue using the contemporary intellectual vernacular? 

Well, the liberal protestants are really an example of very much the same phenomenon mentioned above — namely, reliance on a text-based authority, with simply a different interpretation driving it.  The liberal protestants don’t spend a tremendous amount of time re-ariculating their faith in the language of contemporary intellectual discourse, but have instead simply embarked upon their own text-based interpretation of the religion which is just as removed from the language of Aquinas and Nazianzen, not to say of Robert George and David Hart as well, as are any other forms of contemporary protestantism.  It is simply another manifestation of interpretative pluralism which plagues Protestantism as a whole and weakens it, and the rest of Christianity along with it.  This is evidenced by the singular failure of such churches not only to grow and thrive, but even to maintain their ranks.  Far from articulating their faith in a way that is both intelligible and convincing to a contemporary intellectual mind, they seem to have rather spectacularly succeeded in convincing such minds of the irrelevance of their religion in general.  They are a symptom, therefore, of the same problem manifesting itself in a different way, rather than an exception to it. 

As for Francis Collins, the discovery institute and so on, these are generally people who are critical of  the conclusions of science within its own framework.  In other words, they raise interesting and important questions about whether the scientific conclusions about matters such as species evolution and the like are really justified based on the epistomological rules and conventions of the scientific method, the evidence that is available and the like.  While these are important conversations to have (and the fact that the scientific community, which is supposed to be based on peer critiques to begin with, is so hostile to them is in itself quite telling), nevertheless they are not the kind of conversation we’re talking about here.  Rather, they are pointed conversations that are taking place within the framework of empiricism itself.  In order for religion to regain its place in the world and not continue to be sidelined by the anti-theistic moderns and empiricist fundamentalists, the actual questions concerning the questions religion and philosophy are struggling with must be addressed directly — and not indirectly by means of critiques within the framework of empiricism itself and its epistemology.  So, while this kind of critique can be helpful if it is properly formed and based, nevertheless it is not the kind of direct engagement on the basis of the larger questions, articulated in the framework that the contemporary intellectual mind can appropriate, that is needed to undermine the tyrannical regime of modernism that we labor under today.

What does this look like?  What does it mean?  It simply means that rather than basing the entirety of its legitimacy on fidelity to a text, Christianity must articulate itself in a more robust, holistic way — in a way that the world understands, in its contemporary idiom intellectually, in a way that embraces the goodness of what is already in the world, and in us.  The early church embraced this in its dialogues with the philosophically-minded Greeks (**) and in its use of philosophical terms and discourse to articulate Christian truth in ways that were intelligible and intellectually sensible to the mind of that world.  The medieval church did so as well, and not in a completely unproblematic way, either, but nevertheless refused to see philosophy, mental reasoning and work, and intelletctually sophisticated articulations as being inappropriate because they did not all proceed from a text.  To be sure, none of these Christians saw their philosophizing or discourse as being inconsistent with scripture — far from it.  Yet it was always recognized that there is much that is not addressed in scripture in a way that is clear enough to avoid division and dispute, and that therefore some articulation is not only beneficial, but necessary in order to maintain unity, and preach the faith truly to achieve the goal of the great commission itself.

Of course, in order to work, this must be based on the idea that there is an authority, or an authoritativeness, that exists beyond the mere text of scripture.  That relies on the idea that not only is scriptural text, as revealed truth, true, but also that there is a human, worldly element of authority which is also authoritative precisely because of the action of God in the world through the Church.  The authority is that of God, not only speaking through the text of scripture, but speaking through the Church itself, and the humans, flawed though they may be, who inhabit that Church.  This is very difficult for Protestants to accept, because it goes against the very thing that the Reformation was aimed against, at least in part.  But it remains the case that this is the link that is missing, the block that comes between the strong faith of many Protestant Christians, on the one hand, and the kinds of failures you’ve articulated in your earlier note.

And that link is this — when Protestantism ditched the personal, living authority of the Catholic Church and its Tradition, and tried to replace this with a text in an effort to avoid the corruption inevitable with human involvement in that authority, it created (unwittingly for sure) a rather narrow, rigid type of Christianity which, eventually, would become disconnected with the world.  Why is this?  Because Protestantism, in ditching the Catholic Tradition, also ditched sacramentalism (***), the aspect of Catholic Christianity (by which I mean not just the current Catholic Church, but also the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox churches) which makes the world transcendent, holy and sanctified — which transforms the world, the physical, the temporal into an encounter with the transcendent and the infinite, and which confirms the ultimate goodness of the world, and its status as gift from the creator to man.  The sacramental approach to Christianity constantly affirms to the believer that the world is good, that the world is gift, that the world is holy and sanctified by God’s grace, and is a tangible means of encountering God in the here and now, and not just in some future place.  This is why these churches have ALWAYS been very concerned with the world at large, with the cultures in which they exist, with the state of morality and the like — because the world is gift, the world is being saved, the world is being transformed, and the Church is the main means by which this is supposed to occur.  Catholic Christianity is holistic, it embraces the world in this way, and transcends it.

It follows directly from this that the kind of authority which would be embraced by a church which retains sacramentality would itself be sacramental — that is, would itself be in the world, be a part of the world which is being transformed by and through the power of God.  It would be an authority which is not of the world (God’s authority comes from God himself, who is not of the world), but which is very much in the world, very much a part of the world, very much reflecting the world in all of its variation, in all of its articulation — and not merely a scriptural text, as central as that text is to the Tradition which is articulated over time by this authority in the world, in a way that the world can understand, and in a way that can reach the world in its own idiom.  This authority inheres in the episcopate, in the papacy which is its center, in the tradition articulated by the church through these, and through councils, and through theologians accepted by the church and so on.  It is ulimately more holistic, and more engaged on most levels with the world, than the most seeker-friendly hipster-worship-band Protestant church can ever be with its text0-based-authority system.  Ultimately, it is also much more open to the world, because the world is the locus of sacramentality — including things like mental articulation and philosophical discourse, two avenues of “the world” that the Church has historically embraced as a part of its mission to be “in the world”.

From the perspective of this kind of authority, and this kind of Christianity, it isn’t really an option to stand aloof from the world, or from a particular culture in the world — precisely because all is cherished, all is shot through with grace, all is in the process of being transformed and renewed by God through the Church.  The Church is central in this process, but it presupposes an embracing of the world as fundamentally fallen but being in the process of being transformed and redeemed.  It cannot countenance a stand-offish aproach to the world as irretrievably fallen, or as being of limited relevance to a faith that is solely based on fidelity to textual revelation.  By contrast, if you are a text-based believer without a sacramentally-based faith whose approach is based on a text and a mostly cerebral understanding of it, coupled with the occasional emotional reaction, rather than an actual physical encounter with God on a regular basis (“oh taste and see, that the Lord is good”), well, you’re going to be tempted at the very least to reject entanglements with a fallen world, or a particular civilization, or what have you, because it ultimately “doesn’t matter”.  What matters is fidelity to the textual authority for a small remnant. 

This is why protestantism has been an unmitigated disaster for Western Christianity in particular, and for Christianity as a whole.  That is not to say that the Western Catholic Church of the early 16th century was not in desperate need of reform — it was! — or that many of the reforms that came about as a part of the counter-reformation were not very useful — they were!  But it does mean that the trajectory that Protestantism set much of Western Christianity on was a deeply tragic one, and quite apart from all of the blood that was spilled in its wake.  It is simply the case that by creating a kind of Christianity which was non-sacramental and mostly careening between hyper-rationalism and hyper-emotionalism in a roller-coaster type fashion over the course of time, a gradual withdrawal from the actual world took place — a kind of vacating of the space, which allowed other ideations to move into, and eventually take over, that space.  The Catholics have never really stopped their engagement with the world, both in practical and in intellectual terms.  But the trends unleashed by the Reformation were very powerful, and had huge and negative impacts on Catholic countries and cultures as well, precisely because the countries which were Protestant came to dominate the world, and spread their own culture together with that domination (a process which continues today).  The tide has been a global one, and the voice of the Catholics (and the smaller voices of the Orthodox in their own contexts) has been all but drowned out.

I do think that engagement with philosophy is critical.  One author you may want to look into is David Bentley Hart.  He’s a philosopher and theologian — he’s Eastern Orthodox, but he isn’t a partisan.  He takes a view similar to yours in that the battle needs to be fought on both fronts, and that Christian philosophers are needed to do so.  He has written a few good books, although they can be difficult reading at times in part due to his own style of writing (which he has admitted himself can be difficult).

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(**)  I realize that many Protestant Christians, perhaps most of them, view this as having been a terrible mistake.  They could not be more wrong, actually, and in my view it is precisely this kind of knee-jerk reaction against any kind of philosophically based articulation of religion that lies at the heart of the problem we’re discussing here. 

(***) By sacramentalism I mean not merely embracing baptism, or perhaps baptism and communion as “sacraments”, but rather an entire worldview which sees the world itself as a living sacrament, shot through with the presence of God, and something which, in very specific and concentrated moments, becomes what the Church refers to formally as “sacraments”.

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Athens and Jerusalem in Dialogue I — L’Affaire King

Recently there was something of a dust-up over the commenter Matt King at Dalrock’s blog.  This is a storm that has been brewing for some time, I think, but the recent kerfuffle provides a useful opportunity for a bit of reflection.  Escoffier and I have been in some dialogue about this privately, and it struck us that it might be useful to share parts of this dialogue here for others to read.  This first installment is a post from Escoffier laying out his perspective.  I will follow that with a post later today or tomorrow with my own perspective, and then a third post with some concluding remarks over the next couple of days.

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I was absent during “l’Affaire King” but I read through it over the last couple of days and have a few thoughts.
 
First, I was always and remain quite sympathetic to his world view and find very little to disagree with.  Your main criticism—that he needs to take his mission to his own platform and that his delivery needs a major overhaul—I completely agree with.  I would add one that I think is more fundamental.  King would often say that more talk was not the answer, the time for action had come.  A fair point.  However, he never said (unless I missed it) what that action should be, even at the individual level. Now, I myself, as we have discussed, have no idea what should be done now, as a matter of action (thought I will cover below).  Which is why I have no practical or political program whatsoever.  Not because I don’t care but because I don’t know what to do.  I really have no idea.  So I am not criticizing King for that, but for the harangues to action when he could not articulate any action.
 
This raises an interesting dilemma in and of itself.  Not knowing what to do can be a temptation or excuse to inaction.  That is certainly true in my case.  I tell myself that I do nothing (to reform society, to be clear, not nothing literally, though I can be quite lazy) because I don’t know what to do.  And to an extent that is true, I don’t know what to do.
 
However, I also believe that we in a downward cycle of civilization.  I believe in the classical teaching on the cycle of regimes or sects.  All civilizations have a life cycle.  Ours appears to me to be in winter, in its dotage and decay and decline.  If I am right about that, then there is nothing I or anyone can do.  But do I hold that view out of genuine conviction or because, in my laziness, I prefer to believe that there is nothing I can do?
 
Despair is a sin.  It is also, in a secular sense of the virtues, a vice.  See, e.g., Churchill’s great but forgotten inter-war essay “Shall We All Commit Suicide?”  Churchill was an agnostic (at best) and he makes an entirely rational case for why man has a moral duty to KBO (“keep buggering on”).  The essay itself is great thought Churchill as an example might be bad in that there seems to be the implicit promise of a happy ending: be vindicated, chosen for high office, win the defining struggle of the age, go down in history as one of the greatest heroes ever …
 
This of course overlooks the ways he did NOT win: Britain broke, empire gone, great power status gone, half of Europe enslaved, etc.  I suppose the best example I can think of, of a man who had a just and great cause, who was losing, who knew he was losing, who KBOed anyway and still lost, both personally and in his cause, is Cicero.  (Plutarch is very hard on Cicero but leave that aside).  Well, how many of us are prepared to be murdered with a sword in a losing cause?
 
King would no doubt raise his hand.  I don’t disbelieve him.  But I still don’t know what he would do or have the rest of us do.
 
However, I will say two broad things in his defense, regarding his ideas, which are the important thing here. First, his “teaching” or message was not merely more positive than those he attacked (and who attacked him) but also, in my estimation, closer to the truth.  Too many of his critiques tend to see everything, including the high, in the light of the low.  They are afflicted with what others have called intellectual vice of “probity” which is as it were the flipside of naïve idealism.  “Probity” is the tendency always to believe the worst BECAUSE it is the worst, to see the noble always in the light of the ignoble out of a misplaced fear of self-deception.  The pose is “I alone live without illusions.”
 
This is endemic to many red-pillers.  They learn some truths about the sordid side of female nature—truths which are verboten not merely to say aloud but even to think in the modern West—and they think that is it, the end-all, a kind of Hegelian final wisdom.  Counter-examples are dismissed with a curt wave, or a snarky “NAWALT” HawHaw guffaw, but of course we know they are, you moron, etc.  Men who can honestly say they have long, direct experience with good women are attacked as delusional fools who got lucky, like some illegal Mexican gardener who won PowerBall.
 
This arises from two contradictory, but also complementary, modern response to or attacks on religion.  Modernity of course at every step takes for granted that religion is false, the Bible is a poetic fable, written entirely by man, with the same cognitive status as (say) the Iliad, or better yet the Aeneid, which was known at the time of its writing to be a poetic fable written by a man.  Modernity begins by considering religion the enemy, on essentially three grounds: 1) religion is false and men should not live by falsehood but by the truth; 2) religion terrifies man with the prospect of eternal torment; which, though false, to the extent that it is believed, is a terrible detriment to man’s happiness; and 3) religion takes men’s mind and effort off of earthly goods, the only real goods, and man’s only chance for happiness in this life, the only one he gets.
 
So, it’s a long story to say how this happened and I don’t want to get too in the weeds here, but eventually, late modernity flips the script on parts of this.  Religion becomes damned not because it is terrifying but because it is alleged to be “comforting.”  Precisely the promise of eternal life and divine justice, both of which needless to say late modernity takes for granted are false, are attacked because they give man false hope.  Man must learn to face his forsakenness, his solitude, his existentially terrifying situation without any comforting delusion.  And it turns out that anything comforting is held to be an illusion, to the point that all truth is understood to be “bad.”  So, all the Socratic concern with the noble, the good, the just, etc.—which the tradition for 2,000 took very seriously and believed to be metaphysically real—late modernity discards all this as myth, along with religion.
 
This is the root of “probity” and it’s quite amazing to see how successful it has been.  E.g., the pop psych argument that noble deeds—such as charging into a burning building to save a little old lady—are essentially selfish because the rescuer only wants the praise, or perhaps the inner satisfaction of feeling like a hero.  But there is nothing noble about it because nobility doesn’t exist, it’s just a resplendent mirage thrown up by selfishness.   Amazingly cynical but what’s most amazing is the spectacle of a bunch of professed Christians essentially resorting to a profoundly anti-Christian argument with profoundly anti-Christian roots in order to attack a guy, whatever his faults, for trying to state an essentially hopeful Christian teaching.  It’s yet another sign of how fundamentally modern our entire intellectual framework is.
 
Which brings me to the other point.  King scored some good points about t the worst tendencies of the sphere comment zone.  But, let me stick to what I think is the most impotant point: the seemingly permanent witch hunt for “enemies” defined as people who deviate .001%.

I am something of a student of the New Left.  I really, really hate them with a mouth-frothing passion but I study them because I think they are important and influential.  One of their hallmarks was to attack with the greatest vigor those closest to them politically and intellectually.  They did not focus on their natural enemies but on their nominal (or natural or potential) friends.  That is the sphere, to a “T”.  Bill Bennett is a bigger villain that Betty Freidan.  Not that I think their criticisms of Bennett are without merit, but the feminist left hates and wants to destroy them whereas Bennett means well but is deluded.  Perhaps Bennett cannot be corrected but his followers and listeners could but certainly they will not be by the tactics now prevalent in the sphere.

I could understand this, sort of, a matter of intellectual or philosophical intransigence, the unwillingness to bend on certain points for the sake of comity or “being a good sport” or whatever.  But that is not what is at play here.  First of all, most of the discussion is simply not at that level.  Second, the vitriol is completely inconsistent with the “truth before friendship” spirit that Aristotle propounded before stating his disagreements with Plato (to cite the highest possible example).
 
I got into it once over the issue of natural right, which is what alerted me to the fact that something in the sphere is very seriously messed up.  Basically that is the idea that right and wrong exist by nature, independent of man’s will.  This was attacked with some vigor.  As if the God who created nature and pronounced the commandments somehow forged no connection between the two.  As if he created a natural world in which might makes right, but then commanded a righteousness based only on His word or will, which could be changed at a whim.  Aquinas of course saw it exactly the opposite way (as did Augustine, Dante and many others).  But the idea of natural right is now so lost to us that even devout Christians reject it and rail against it when it is by rights their birthright. To say nothing of the American founders (“nature and nature’s God”).

This is where it gets to the main point.  Modernity is the true enemy.  Modernity culminates in the rejection of natural right. It begins with the rejection of religion, proceeds to the rejection of teleology and culminates in the rejection of all morality.  The “Christian” rejection of natural right is really a product of modernity.  Christians who oppose natural right are influenced (really, corrupted) by modernity and they don’t realize it.  All the (just, correct) complaining that they do about “Churchianity” boils down to prelates following modernity rather than the Bible (and the Christian medievals).  But they themselves also have the same problem, to a lesser degree, certainly, but it is not absent.  The rejection of natural right is the core, the black heart, of modernity.  Any “Christian” who shares that outlook is fundamentally a modern and his faith is corrupted.

So, to turn briefly to the “what is to be done” question.  Cane Caldo (I think) made the argument that Western Civ should not be a concern of any serious Christian.  His argument played right into the hands of Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Gibbon and the most effective and influential of the anti-Christians.  Basically he said that the next world is what matters, this world does not.  Well, that is EXACLTLY the argument that the early moderns made AGAINST Christianity.  It makes men fatalists and passive.  Indifferent to the here and now.  You can say, that’s an incorrect interpretation, and I won’t fight you.  But it’s a PLAUSIBLE interpretation, which is why it had great currency, both among Christianity’s nominal adherents and especially its determined enemies.

Because, let’s face it, the moderns won the argument.  Philosophy picked a fight with religion.  Religion didn’t know what hit it.  Religion lost.  At least, it lost in the temporal realm.  A believer would say, (Matt King often does say) it cannot lose in the final analysis because truth is truth and truth will out.  I can’t dispute that.

But it is indisputable that religion has lost in the temporal and has been losing for 500 years.  And, contra Cane, the temporal matters.

First, because, the Bible is to a very large extent a set of commands about how to behave in the temporal, in this life, on this earth, in the here and now.  So God rather obviously cares about that.  Thus it is absurd for man to say, only the next life matters, when God Himself says, “This is how you MUST behave in the earthly life.”  One might rejoin, “put not thy faith in princes,” etc., (which is really identical to the classical teaching on moderation, but leave that aside for now).  But that is not a case for disengagement but for realistic expectations about what is possible in the flawed world,  a world which is not yet and may never become fully Christian, and even if it did, will always be governed by flawed men.

Which leads to: disengagement makes the world worse, not better.  Disengagement may be prudentially necessary in certain circumstances, but it is never desirable for its own sake.  The more that God’s word is in retreat, the fewer people will live righteously here and be saved later.  How this is good or is what He wants is, to say the least, not evident.

Christianity then must be concerned with the temporal for the same reason that philosophy must. Its own health and even survival depends on it. Christianity “won” by engagement with “this world.”  It waged spiritual warfare against paganism and, to a lesser extent, against classical hedonism.  It won.  It did not sit on its ass or bitch on the ‘net (whatever the ancient equivalent might have been).

The moderns appropriated spiritual warfare and used it against Christianity.  The faith and especially its institutions proved too corrupt and sclerotic to resist.  The modern interpretation of course is that Christianity was false and was always false.  It was a “sect” like any other, of purely human origin, subject to the cycle of regimes.  It came into being, matured, and would inevitably die.  Modernity gave it a hard push, and more importantly, formulated its replacement.

In a way, Christianity’s situation today is analogous to its beginning.  It is once again the minority, a persecuted minority, persecuted more “softly” but not less intently.  And today it has a disadvantage that it didn’t have then: so many, perhaps even the majority, of people who now claim to be Christians are in fact moderns.  Whether they know it or not.  (And most do not.)  There is an “enemy within” today whereas in the beginning there was confidence and coherence.

Modernity is the true enemy.  Modernity is a perversion of philosophy.  This argument cannot be won on religious grounds alone.  Religion already lost.  It did not lose because it is false.  It lost because it was totally unequipped to fight the fight that was forced upon it.  Religion, as it were, brought a knife to a gun fight.

[EDIT:  For some reason I had omitted the conclusion to this, likely due to a transposition failure — it follows now …]

Victory in the temporal must be a philosophic victory.  It means overcoming the errors of modernity and returning to the true and correct understanding of philosophy, which is an ally of if not a brother to religious faith.

You could say that none of this matters because Christianity shows the truth and the true way and as such has “already won.”  But that, I think, is King’s deepest error.  Not that he is wrong about the fundamental point.  But he is wrong in the way he discounts the temporal.  The truth can lose in the temporal.  It already has.  And the temporal matters.  If the temporal is lost, all is not lost, to be sure, but far fewer people will have access the eternal.

Which is a tragedy.  For both Jesus and Socrates.

Finally, I note one thing that has preoccupied me for many years.  Machiavelli finished his two great books in 1517.  Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door in Wittenberg in 1517.  Whatever one may think of the Reformation, it is I think indisputable that as a practical matter that Luther’s action launched a fratricidal war that blinded Christendom to Wicked Nick’s atheistic spiritual war and weakened it in the face of its true enemy.

ALL our problems grew from these two fateful (and seemingly unrelated) acts.  There is no direct evidence that either knew of the other.  To the secularist, it appears to be the most amazing coincidence in the history of Western thought, or even in all of history.  To the believer, it appears to be the strongest evidence available of Satan’s power in the temporal realm.