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.
Orthospherean James Kalb has written an essay for the latest issue of First Things. Sex and the Religion of Me: A challenge to the project of sexual liberation is about – well, you can pretty much tell what it is about.
The full article is behind a pay wall. Jim’s writing is good enough to warrant a subscription in its own right, of course, but it would be understandable if orthosphereans were to pause before committing their dough. At its beginnings, First Things was a revolutionary pioneer of intelligent, erudite Mere Christian traditionalism, both muscular and optimistic. But gradually it became an institution, and more mainstream. Partly this was due to the fact that its own success in making traditionalism respectable was a major factor of the recent increase in our numbers, many of whom are naturally more radical than the coterie of first class writers and thinkers at First Things. For many of the traditionalists First Things helped to incubate, it was not traditional enough, and too ready to accomodate itself to the terms of the discourse under the prevailing political weltanschauung.
In recent months, however, a number of exogenous factors seem to be radicalizing the whole traditionalist right, and First Things is no exception. The recent reversals on gay “marriage,” the apparent nod to libertinism of Pope Francis, last month’s fractious Synod, and the accelerating progress down the slippery slope to utter insanity of every aspect of our culture seem to have made pragmatic engagement with the political establishment impossible for serious Christians. More and more, it seems, the only options open to us are recusal, protest or civil disobedience. As the issues grow ever starker, the fissures ever deeper and steeper, the middle ground disappears. So, the writers at First Things find themselves more and more isolate from and inimical to the American political culture the journal had hoped to influence. Bruised and saddened, they seem to be moving rightward – or no, wait: upward, rather, and ever more perpendicular to the spectra by which kingdoms of this world calibrate each other.
That might make their conversations more interesting to orthosphereans and our ilk.
As a bonus, there is in every issue, and always at the First Things website, a plethora of insightful theology. David Bentley Hart and Peter Leithart are particularly worthy and voluminous contributors under that heading.
I learned a lesson from the amazing transformation of a nearby country place when the junk accumulated over decades under the stewardship of a previous owner was removed – a rickety fence, a broken down climbing structure, a mish mash of succulents, weeds, dead branches, garden decorations, and the like. It’s not that the place was especially junky, particularly compared with the rural norm throughout the Western states, where the devotion of at least a corner of every lot to rusted farm equipment, jumbled building supplies, and derelict vehicles seems to be de rigeur. To the casual eye, the place only looked lived in, a work in progress toward some vague goal, that like all our lives was encumbered somewhat by this and that – the detritus of failed or ill-defined projects, stuff that had not yet been gotten round to, or relics of obsolescent ideas. Nevertheless, when all the clutter was gone, the place was far more beautiful, restful, and even seemed more spacious. It looked half again as big.
The lesson: deletion is the first principle in the actualization of value, and therefore of order. We see this in natural selection, in architecture, interior design, landscape, music, writing, public policy, business, art, everything. Confusion is the enemy of value. To be properly and fully themselves, things must stop trying to be other things, must be clearly and only themselves. Extraneities are usually best got rid of.
A corollary principle became evident from the effects of the first: deletion makes possible the discovery and restoration of a thing as it is originally meant to be. When all the junk was removed from the place, a meadow became more apparent here, a grove over there, and aspects to the horizon or to forest opened up on every side. Windows that had looked out on nothing in particular now opened vistas to hidden depths in the landscape. One could see that it would make sense to plant a maple just there, or perhaps add a bench over yonder, or rebuild that stretch of crippled fence.
Deletion reveals order; restoration may then establish it more stably.
Recall from the previous parts that traditionalism reconnects man with the wisdom of his ancestors, that the most important wisdom is to acknowledge God, and that intuition is the foundation of wisdom. Recall also that man also needs revelation and personal repentance in order to be wise, and that once he has begun to repent of liberalism he is ready to find teachers of wisdom.
Once you have repented of your participation in the modern system, and once you understand the general framework for attaining knowledge of the most basic truths, where exactly can you go to begin learning the true order of the world and the traditions of your people? This learning generally cannot be had in the formal educations offered by schools, colleges and universities. With the existence of occasional exceptions acknowledged, American schools generally do not teach the wisdom of the ages or American tradition, or at best, they only teach them as just one set of options among many equally-valid (and therefore equally-invalid) options. Under the rule of modernism, believing the truth about the order of being is generally thoughtcrime.
Traditionalism must therefore be learned through unofficial channels. Continue reading
The modern crisis all goes back to nominalism. The modern muddlings of clear definitions, confusions of really and essentially different things, and denials of essences or definitions in the first place are all outworkings of the nominalist turn. Once suppose that categories are merely conventional, that universals are merely nominal, that life is never simply black or white, but rather only shades of grey, and you find yourself on a steep and slippery slope to chaos.
Walking through the Oakland Airport this evening I spotted another one of those dreary advertisements that all schools of business everywhere throw up, showing some brave person who is not a businessman striding bravely into the brave new world she has dreamed up, and exhorting the reader (and prospective applicant) to “think outside the box,” “do well, but do good,” and most importantly, “challenge the status quo.”
Creativity in business is all well and good, of course, in due proportion, and where there is a better way to do things. But that is not what these ads are about. They are appealing to people who consider themselves “agents of change,” and who want to get into businesses and shake them up so that they are less, you know, businessy and more like NGOs. Not seeking those yucky profits, you see; not selling. Ew!
Dragging myself along the concourse, I reflected on the relentless chorus of “change!” to which we have all been more and more subjected these last 50 years now, and considered (not for the first time) that neo-reaction and traditionalism are the last gasp of the modernist critique of all established authority, with the ironic difference that the established authority they call into question is modernism itself.
Traditionalism is a quintessentially modern phenomenon. It is an artifact of a shattered, rudderless society. In a traditional society, there could be no such thing as traditionalism; for, in a traditional society, any suggestion that perhaps things ought to be done differently than they have been done would be met with horror, and outrage; so that, far from calling for their defense, their traditions would seem to them not even traditional, but rather just, and simply, the way that things must of course be done.
What does it indicate, that modernism has in these latter days elaborated a withering modernist critique of modernism? Is the phenomenon of historically self-conscious traditionalism in fact modernism’s last gasp?
[Part One is here.]
Recall from Part One that traditionalism reconnects man with the true order of being, an order that is systematically denied by modernity. To become an American traditionalist, you must begin to know the elements of traditionalism so that you can begin to see their value and be nourished by them. How is this to be done?
Start at the beginning. You cannot begin to seek the ways of tradition unless you know you need them to counteract the lies of the modern age. And you cannot know that lies are lies unless you know the truths that correct them.
But even if you don’t know the truth, you can often sense that lies are lies. So your traditionalism begins with a sense of discontent of the contemporary world in which you have been immersed. If you have been blessed with the gift of discontentment with the status quo, read on. Traditionalism has what you need.
[But let the buyer beware: Many charlatans know you are discontented. Learn to avoid their snake oil.]
Traditionalism is not simply following tradition, although the ways of our ancestors are an important part of it. Traditions can be corrupted, so you must know the truth behind the tradition. Traditionalism has value not because it is good to follow the ways of our ancestors (although it usually is), but because we Americans have become collectively foolish under the influence of modernity. We need to reconnect with the wisdom of the ages that our ancestors understood better than we. Traditionalism supplies this life-giving connection. Continue reading
[I plan for this to be a nine-part series, rather than, as has been my custom, one lengthy post.]
Previously I argued that you need to be a traditionalist conservative. But how does a non-traditionalist become a traditionalist? This essay addresses the question.
Of course, this not a fully rational process. There is no tight recipe for repentance. But we need to talk about it.
In the previous essay I observed that contemporary thinking is fundamentally wrongheaded. As a result, contemporary societies are fundamentally unravelling and contemporary people (aside from those filled with the demonic energy of the liberal jihad) are spiritually and intellectually demoralized. What is the way out of the madness? Continue reading
The prosperity engendered by high technology opens lots of economic room for nihilism, so we should not perhaps be too surprised to see it blossoming these days. But latter-day reproductive technology also makes it possible for nihilism to follow through in reproduction on its moral commitment to death. I.e., it enables nihilism to delete itself from the population. Never before has nihilism had this power to enact its own ultimate conclusions in concrete acts. Until recently, even most nihilists who ended up killing themselves also reproduced themselves in the meantime, willy nilly.
Mutatis mutandis, then, the population of nihilists should be set to crash, just as that of the Shakers crashed.
There is no patrimony, and hasn’t been for generations. We’ve been making it up as we go for the last 250 years or so, each of us cobbling together on his own the lineaments of a coherent way of life from the jetsam that is the only remnant of what was once the ship that bore our forefathers up together from infancy, piloted by their fathers and kept by their mothers.
That ship is gone, wrecked, taken apart piece by piece and thrown into the sea by improvident sailors, unofficered, free, and drunk.