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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.

11 Responses

  1. gdgm+

    Hello Nova –
    Good to see you posting again, so I apologize for pointing out a couple of small errors, one at the end:
    “primrily” – primarily
    “non-discimination” – non-discrimination
    “empashizes” – empathizes

    “More to come in subsequent posts once I am finished the book” should be “finished with the book”. Thanks

  2. ray

    “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.”

    Correct, it is a spiritual war. But most of these Leftist TrueBelievers are simply opportunists who use ideo-political means to rationalize selfishness, greed, arrogance, control-freakism, cowardice before women, and power-seeking. Thus, we see the same endless lies (wage gap, etc.) repeated over and over, as the truth is purposefully shunned in favor of self-serving deceits.

    But a certain percentage do fit your descriptions. Progressivism constantly encourages an attitude of moral self-satisfaction, and of moral self-elevation. Thirty years ago, as a naive leftist, I shared their mindset generally, though never their passion. What changed that mindset was the gradual refutation by reality of the tenets and policies of Progressivism, that rotten fruit of the Enlightenment. It takes humility to change one’s mind.

    And that’s where the Left fails. When confronted by any truth that controverts their artificed ideologies and politics, denial or censorship or additional propaganda immediately is employed. This failure of character and of humility (i.e., admitting that one was wrong, and thus that one’s ideopolitics also are wrong) is what separates these people from God, and what turns them into gods unto themselves. Pride, stubborn pride. At that point, the nations and the world must then be coerced and twisted into becoming the lie that fits their ideopolitics, rather than the creation that God made it. Same for relations between female and male.

    The final world system, and ruler, as prophesied Scripturally, will finalize the collective self-deification that Leftism/Progressivism produced over the past two centuries. He will “solve” the world’s problems according to the self-created “moral” imperatives legalized and codified by Leftism, which is a type of Communism. Who needs God, after all? We are all ever so much smarter, ever so much more moral. And anyone who cleaves to God is just an anachronistic troublemaker, who’s not Enlightened, like Me. Which is why Jarrett and Obama et al. correctly identified the “nation’s internal enemies” as God-fearing and Bible-believing Christians.

    They didn’t identify murderers, or thieves, or baby-stranglers as the problem. They identified Christians as the domestic enemy.

    Either human beings are self-sufficient and self-ruling entities, and God is a fable, or humans are creatures dependant upon God, and under his authority. Either I’m an empowered agent acting in complete autonomy (which inflates my ego and rationalizes any behavior) or I’m a child of God, seeking to please him. There’s no middle ground in this war, and this war won’t end until God makes it clear to the entire planet that he is in charge, and we aren’t.

  3. Höllenhund

    “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.”

    I’d say it’s rather directed at removing all obstacles to the exercise of the personal female volitional will, whether it’s harmful to men or not, as long as that exercise doesn’t contradict feminism.

  4. Escoffier

    Unsurprisingly, I have some thoughts on this.

    The central insight I believe is correct. I remember an “aha moment” around 1998 around the same lines: that in a certain way, libertarianism has won. It’s completely dominant. The way I would put it, which is similar to what you said, is that the dominant ethos of the age is “If it doesn’t draw blood or a pick a pocket, it not only ought to be permitted, it would be unjust for forbid.” And there is a corollary which says that the state can draw blood and steal to its heart’s content, only private individuals can’t.

    It has been said that the political formula of the ancient city was “Whatever the law does not command, it forbids.” Whereas the formula of modernity is “Whatever the law does forbid, it permits.” This is a direct step toward the libertarianism you identify.

    I disagree with Bottum, though, about the roots. Rather, I think he misses the root and takes a grafted on limb for the root. The root is modernity.

    Modernity is the attempt to realize Plato’s Republic, the rule of the wise, or at least of wisdom, of reason. With some important changes, to be sure, the most important being, in the classical scheme, the goal of all political life is or should be the cultivation of virtue, with philosophy or intellectual virtue at the top of the pyramid of virtues. The classics realized that this is impractical and the moderns do not disagree. The moderns, though, draw a different conclusion than the classics. The classics say that because perfection is impossible, the ne plus ultra virtue of political life is moderation—in aspiration and in action, if not in thought. The moderns say, so long as you dispense with the highest goal, then moderation becomes a vice or an excuse for inaction. Focus on what can be achieved and pour all of society’s energies into that.

    Classical philosophy, while not affirmatively religious, is open to the challenge posed by religion, its highest metaphysics are very similar to religion’s, and it’s morality is almost (but not quite) identical. Modernity, however, takes it for granted that philosophy is at its core atheistic, that religion is false, and worse, that it is a hindrance to the modern project. Which is to maximize material wellbeing and individual freedom, because (so the theory goes) these are the essential pillars of happiness in this world. And since modernity assumes there is no next world, these are the only chances at happiness that man has, so it would be foolish not to make the most of them.

    Modernity begins confident in its premise, purpose and prospect. It thinks that it can solve problems that have bedeviled man for centuries, through the application of right reason. And it did manage to rack up a good record for a while, and in many areas it still does.

    But because the premise is wrong, the internal contradictions began to cause problems. The high-water mark for modernity as a (nearly) coherent body of philosophic thought was the mid-1700s. Rousseau was the first to expose the inherent fault lines. He tried to fix them but he failed because he did not re-examine or correct the fundamental premise.

    I am simplifying here, but the highest point in classical metaphysics is the “idea of the good.” That is, when we say this or that is “good” we mean some inherent quality in the thing itself, but there must also be some inherent quality of “goodness” which transcends that thing, which is in one sense common to all good things, or things which partake of goodness, but which is also separate and irreducible to any of the things in which it partakes. In other words, a “good chair” and a “good person” are good for many different reasons, but they also share a transcendent “goodness” which is at the highest level the same.

    All morality is derived ultimately from the idea of the good, and more specifically from what is good for man, what makes a good man, or from what is highest in human nature. Modernity dispenses with this concept because it dispenses with teleology (the idea that all worldly things have a perfection or end).

    But there was always an inherent contradiction here, because why direct all of society’s energies toward individual freedom and material plenty unless we know these things are good and even the highest good? It was this contradiction that Rousseau first brings to light in an undeniable way.

    The “solution” was to revive the good but not to reexamine the premise, hence the revived idea is really a corrupted, desiccated version. So, “the good” is now synonymous with the ends of modernity.

    It’s really, therefore, I would say more a philosophic than a religious war. But it is religious is the following important sense. The classics maintained that society can never be rational or rationalized. The bulk of the people in all times and places will be rational about most day-to-day things, at best, but never rational about the highest things. This is the key reason why the perfection envisioned in Plato’s Republic is ultimately concluded to be impossible,

    The moderns, in their optimism, think that reason can rule. Not necessarily that all people can be made rational but that rational principles can govern the world. It is possible, they come to believe, to dispense even with the pretense of God (or metaphysics) and still have a just and orderly world.

    But the classics, it appears, were right all along. And so what we see in late modernity are people who are completely convinced that they act rationally, according to rational principles, without recourse to the supernatural or “superstition,” but who in fact behave exactly as religious fanatics of prior ages behaved. Because the religious impulse is stronger and more widespread (by a large margin) than the philosophic among all men in all times and places.

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