An Orthogonal Turn at First Things

From its founding, First Things has been the premier journal of high Christian engagement with the public square in the West. The basic proposition of the journal has been that American liberal democracy could be domesticated to Christ by a concerted ecumenical effort of philosophical evangelism. First Things intended to provide a forum for that discourse, and a rally point. Much good has come of this project. But with the recent spate of stunning reversals on sexual policy, and with Christianity ever more clearly in the crosshairs of our secular overlords, the writers of First Things seem to be recoiling from the profane culture of the West and its liberal cult of Moloch. They begin to see that their project has failed, and that perhaps it was doomed to fail from the start. More and more, they seem to realize that rapprochement with liberalism is in any case a pact with the devil.

It’s not just that the editors saw fit to publish an article by our own Jim Kalb back in December. In the February issue, First Things took a decided turn toward orthogony to secular political discourse, as if they all with one mind awoke to a realization that dawned on most traditionalists several years ago: America is too far gone to be saved. As Lawrence Auster then began to say, “It’s their country now.” Likewise also for the West in general.

First Things seems now to have reached the same conclusion.

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The Inhumanities

Over at What’s Wrong with the World the redoubtable Lydia McGrew has one of those posts making a point that’s obvious in retrospective, except that (almost) nobody said it before. When conservatives decry all the emphasis on sending students to major in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and call for a renewed emphasis on the humanities to produce well-rounded persons, they’re ignoring the obvious: The humanities have almost uniformly become cesspools of leftist perversion and idiocy. Sending students there does far more harm than good.

In response, reader Gerry T. Neal proposes a name for the newly-befouled districts: The Inhumanities.

So we may define any department or discipline ostensibly dedicated to English, Philosophy, Classics, History, or one of the “Studies” (Queer, Chicana, Black, etc.) as part of the Inhumanities unless it demonstrates clearly that its purpose is the study of truth, goodness and beauty.

Why Modern Authorities are (Generally) Dishonest Manipulators

[This will not be news to most Orthosphere readers, but we need clear statements of basic principles to educate the young.]

Not all authorities are dishonest manipulators, of course, but the higher their rank, the more dishonest and manipulative they tend to be. And this is not just an unfortunate fluke. In the modern world authorities have to be manipulators. They have no real authority but they must somehow establish and maintain order, so manipulation is usually their only recourse.

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A bit of history: Until modern times (roughly, before the end of World War I), most people made most of their important decisions based largely on tradition and authority. “Tradition” means the ways of thinking and living they inherited from their ancestors, and “authority” means the teachings and the commands of people such as lords, kings, pastors and teachers. Tradition and the authorities were recognized as having the right to answer the important questions of life and to tell us, in broad terms, how we ought to live.

But now, thanks to the successful liberal takeover of the West, tradition and authority are greatly diminished.  The liberal jihad fights, in large part, under the banner of personal freedom, and in the modern world we are all supposed to be autonomous, self-actualizing freedmen who accept no authority not freely chosen and who are liberated from the tyranny of tradition. Continue reading

The Liberal Cannot Stop Dancing

Long long ago, in another, an antediluvian world, way back in 2003, indeed so long ago that it was before Zippy Catholic became Zippy Catholic, he came up with the notion of the Hegelian Mambo in a comment thread over at VFR. This at least is how I recall that it happened. Zippy can correct the record, if he wishes. The basic idea is that liberal culture – composed as it is of left liberals and right liberals, of “progressives” and “conservatives” – must move always leftward: two steps left, one step right, or as Zippy put it:

Thesis step to the left,
Thesis step to the left,
Grab Antithesis on your right and step to the left,
Twirl around
Synthesize
cha cha cha

And step to the Left…

The rightward steps are feints only; they are accomplished via Auster’s Unprincipled Exceptions, and are entertained or undertaken only to obscure the absurdity of the two leftward steps.

The Hegelian Mambo may be understood as a repeated gyration of the liberal as he slides like a snowboarder down the Slippery Slope. It helps him keep a precarious balance, preventing his immediate crash. Thus it enables his continued steady progress toward the abyss.

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Reversion to the Mean

If there is a real world, and if it is consistently ordered, and if this consistent orderliness extends to the living portion of that world – these being the de minimis foreconditions of any sort of life whatsoever – then there must be some basic set of policies best suited to the lives of humans as we find them in the world as it is. Such is the proposition at the crux of philosophical Traditionalism, and of all the unconscious chthonic traditions that arose of old and organically from the practice of life, and were one day noticed and then taught by priests and sages. It is obviously true; it cannot but be true.

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Academic Freedom Means . . .

For those not following the case, Marquette University has decided to attempt to fire one of its tenured professors, John McAdams, for, well, something.  The letter by which the university informed McAdams of its plan is here. McAdams’ response to the letter is here. In summary, an undergraduate student was enrolled in a philosophy class which class was being taught by a graduate student, Cheryl Abbate.  The graduate student instructor asserted, one day in class, with little or no discussion, that gay marriage is an example of something that John Rawls’ Justice Principle protects.  After class, a student objected to her claim, counterclaiming that gay marriage is potentially harmful and thus not necessarily protected.  As their discussion unfolded, Abbate unburdened herself thus:

Ok, there are some opinions that are not appropriate that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions, and quite honestly, do you know if anyone in the class is homosexual?  . . . Ok, well, actually you don’t have a right in this class, as –especially as an ethics professor to make homophobic comments, racist comments, sexist comments . . . This is about restricting rights and liberties of individuals. Um and just as I would take offense if women can’t serve in XYZ positions because that is a sexist comment . . . You can have whatever opinions you want but I can tell you right now, in this class homophobic comments, racist comments, and sexist comments will not be tolerated. If you don’t like that you are more than free to drop this class.

There is no debate about what Abbate said since the student recorded the conversation.

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Reality versus “Marriage”

Our loyal leftist commenter a.morphous responded to my post of the other day on Homeostasis & Cultural Health with an argument that homosexuals want to be able to marry each other simply because “they are people and want to live like people.”

Not so. They want to be able to marry each other because they want to be able to live like heterosexual people, without ever actually living like heterosexual people.

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Ritual Purity With & Without God

The Social Gospel, the activities of Social Justice Warriors, Political Correctness, electioneering, and the like (and their counterparts on the right side of the aisle) are all desperate and in the end bootless Pharisaical ritual purifications, undertaken to assuage the universal feeling of having done less well than one might have. They fail, in the first place because scapegoating never provides more than a few minutes of emotional relief, and in the second because they involve no inward purgation, and a fortiori no sort of metanoia, which is the only thing that can salve the sick conscience and repair the wounded mind. They wash the outside of the bowl, but not the inside.

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Essay on Rene Girard at The Brussels Journal

My latest at The Brussels Journal is an essay entitled “René Girard on the ‘Ontological Sickness.’” I taught Girard’s I See Satan Fall like Lightning to the students in my “Introduction to Literary Criticism” this semester and found myself re-reading him with a good deal of renewed interest. Girard’s notion of “ontological sickness” explains a good deal about modernity, especially about what is sometimes called “entitlement mentality.” In the essay, I try to show how this is so. The essay includes an interpretation of what I regard as one of the major modern parables about the “ontological sickness,” the HAL subplot of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The link is http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/5178

I offer a sample below.

In Things Hidden, Girard writes: “Modern people still fondly imagine that their discomfort and unease is a product of the strait-jacket that religious taboos, cultural prohibitions and, in our day, even the legal forms of protection guaranteed by the judiciary place upon desire. They think that once this confinement is over, desire will be able to blossom forth [and that] its wonderful innocence will finally be able to bear fruit.” The modern subject, wanting liberté, inveterately seeks liberation and just as inveterately experiences the belaboring frustration of its every liberating triumph. The “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848) of the Seneca Falls Convention of early feminists employs the essential “liberationist” vocabulary: “Disenfranchisement,” “social and religious degradation,” a mass of the “oppressed,” whose constituents “feel… aggrieved” and who want “rights and privileges” wickedly withheld by malefactors. The male oppressor, as the document asserts, “Has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for [the generic woman] a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.” In her much-celebrated speech on the same occasion, Elizabeth Cady Stanton invoked the image of the sovereign self in its absoluteness: “There is a solitude… more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea,” which neither “eye nor touch of man or angel has ever pierced.”

The themes of the usurpation of being and of the radical autonomy of the individual, Girard’s self-inflating quasi-divine ego, come into their necessary conjunction at the inception of what would later take the name of women’s liberation.

The feminist “Declaration” and its adjunct texts were already hackneyed. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had set the tone brilliantly nearly a century before, in his Discourse upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind (1754). The second part of Rousseau’s essay begins with the speculative scenario that must have inspired Karl Marx to write The Communist Manifesto (1848 – the same year as the Seneca Falls Convention): “The first man, who, after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.” Not merely property, but society itself, for Rousseau, is theft or usurpation. Under tutelage of Girard, one might reduce the formula even further: Usurpation is the Other, by the mere fact of his existence. In the sequel, Rousseau, speaking on behalf of the usurped, rouses the mob against the usurper: “How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors, would that man have saved the human species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Be sure not to listen to this imposter; you are lost, if you forget that, the fruits of the earth belong equally to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!”

Strange Theological Bedfellows

The Islamic and the liberal views of Jesus and of the New Testament are formally the same.

According to liberalism, Jesus was just a man, not God, who never claimed to atone for men’s sins or determine their eternal destiny, who taught liberal doctrines, and who remained dead after he died on the Cross.

According to Islam, Jesus was just a man, not God, who never claimed to atone for men’s sins or determine their eternal destiny, who taught Islamic doctrines, and who remained dead after he died of natural causes.

[Correction: The majority Islamic view of Jesus’s end of days on Earth is that he was transported to Heaven.  But the Islamic view is still very close to the liberal view.]

According to liberalism, the New Testament contains many errors that have developed over the centuries, due partly to malice and partly to entropy, and we must look to scholarship to set the record straight.

According to Islam, the New Testament contains many errors that have developed over the centuries, due partly to malice and partly to entropy, and we must look to Islam to set the record straight. Moslem anti-Christian apologists according quote liberally from liberal scholars such as Bart Ehrman in attacking the New Testament.

Reason number 5,347 why liberalism is assaulting our culture.