Resentment and a World Both More and Less Christian

Thomas Bertonneau’s last posting mentioned that René Girard states that the West is becoming simultaneously more Christian and less Christian. The liberal West has become hyper-aware of the possibility of scapegoating; of picking en masse on an innocent victim. But at the same time the anti-scapegoating message of Christ’s death – making us aware of the ways victims are killed to stop intra-group violence – is missed by the liberal if the victim seems to fall within the class of “persecutor.”

Girard notes in Violence and the Sacred that there are two traditional classes of victim. What one might call the upper and the lower. The lower include all the dispossessed; the POW, the slave, the handicapped, the foreigner; preferably, someone with no family to retaliate when the person is killed. In this manner, the West is more Christian. But the other class of victim found in probably all cultures is the upper; the king or his equivalent social position. When things go wrong, it seems logical to blame the person in charge even if in fact he is innocent. The king is already socially isolated because of his position. The king is exposed and can easily become the minus one against the unity of the mob.

The Christianized West has become aware and solicitous of the lower victims. We pass laws protecting the handicapped and “the weaker sex.” But the West is blind to its tendency to scapegoat anyone belonging to the class of supposed persecutors. It scapegoats with a clear conscience as unaware as any primitive scapegoaters of what they are doing. At times the liberal West makes the same mistake as Nietzsche. It imagines that single victims, the 1%, is the strong, the persecutor, and side with the mob against the few.

Continue reading

Nihilism and the Neighbor from Beyond the Hill

Is Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” really a reproof against borders? To read modern journalists, one would certainly think so, for they can hardly type the phrase “border fence” without feeling an inspiration to add, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

When this happens, we should remember that a close reading of the poem shows that there is also something that does. Love a wall, that is. Frost’s neighbor from “beyond the hill” loves walls very dearly—so much so that he more than once remarks, “good fences make good neighbors.” Continue reading

The Apocalypse of Modernity: Evolution and Conversion and Battling to the End by René Girard

Girard 03 G in Interview

Rene Girard in an Interview

History, and increasingly the mere daily record of events, are together apocalyptic, laying bare human nature for what it is primordially before the agonizing laboratory of the millennia creates the Christian society that its beneficiaries, swiftly taking it for granted, petulantly reject so that they might go “forward” into a liberated horizon beyond the one defined by the Gospel. “Progress” names that particular folly. A blood-drenched folly it is, beginning with the religious wars of the Seventeenth Century and reaching fullness with the mobilization of the whole society fomented by the Jacobins and institutionalized by their superman-successor, Napoleon Bonaparte. From the guillotine henceforth, modernity blurts itself sanguinely in the Commune, Leninism, Stalinism, Hitlerism, and resurgent Islam (Jihad), which continues belatedly the sparagmatic trend of the late and unlamented Twentieth Century. Yet despite the academy’s authoritative three-decades-long declaration of Dionysiac “Postmodernism,” despite the polysyllables of doctrine-inebriated intellectuals, Modernity in its lynch-mob vehemence has not succeeded in realizing its rainbow utopia. No fulfillment of the destructive quest heaves in prospect. Modernity spirals dizzyingly to its destined abyss, dragging with it those who know full well its madness but who find themselves sucked along with the lunatics into the maelstrom.

The contemporary West resembles nothing so much as an archaic society in the full panic of social breakdown, searching desperately for the scapegoats whose immolation will induce the gods to intervene. So perverse has Modernity become that people eagerly seek victim-status although of course they can only do so by indicting other people as their persecutors. The old gesture of designating the victim has therefore been turned inside out and the nomenclature along with it. Objects of collective passion, those who are about to die at the hands of the mob, are now called victimizer, not victims.

No one can fully understand the contemporary situation without first understanding archaic religiosity, and archaic religiosity only reveals its meaning in contrast with the higher, scriptural religiosity, which at one time informed the civilized condition. In the same degree as the contemporary West spurns the spiritual maturity of Judaism and Christianity, its situation reverts to archaic patterns. Thus, in the sacrosanct name of “Progress” – wretched regress. And in tandem with that regress travels the obliteration both of consciousness and conscience, as the individuated man dissolves into the moral crudity of the Caliban-collective. No one has understood archaic religiosity – no one understands the modern age as a case of accelerating sacrificial panic – with greater clarity and penetration than René Girard (1923 – 2015), who remained intellectually active until his death earlier this month. Two late books by Girard, Evolution and Conversion (2008) and Battling to the End (2010), demand attention from those who sense that the liberal-secular order ever more excruciatingly confronts and denies the revelation of its own nullity.

Continue reading

Liberal Cultural Suicide and Spiritual Confusion : Apotheosis via Self-Castigation

One way of describing moral development is in terms of general levels; egocentric, ethnocentric and worldcentric. One starts with an exclusive concern for oneself, then the group – whichever group one identifies with – then a concern for everyone in principle. The Green MEME liberal has a worldcentric developmental level. Their infatuation with egalitarianism can lead to moral and cultural relativism. No moral perspectives are better or worse – all are equal. The same applies to cultures. Cultures are not better or worse, just different.

Moral relativism implies moral nihilism. If one moral perspective is not better than another and you can’t be wrong, then morality is null and void. Cultural relativism says one can’t compare morally the practices of different cultures. Again, there is no question of moral realism or the notion of objective values transcending cultures.

The goal of cultural relativism is tolerance. It is also intended to avoid ethnocentrism and the claim that my culture is better than your culture simply because it is my culture. The liberal in this instance conflates ethnocentrism with bigotry. This is obviously a mistake. One can have a preference for one’s own culture without simply denigrating out of hand other cultures, just as one can have a special love and preference for one’s own parents or children, without making a moral mistake.

The morally worldcentric liberal and cultural relativist seeks to get rid of bigotry by removing ethnocentrism. Thus they make identification with a group a sin. They want to go straight to the transcendent, bypassing the immanent. This is a form of Gnostic world-hatred. It is the situation of the misanthropist who hates and despises all particular human beings while professing love for “humanity” in the abstract. Here is the moral and metaphysical error.
Continue reading

Daredevil Morality and the Neighbor Problem

Drawing toward the end of the Our Father, as you well know, we petition God to “lead us not into temptation.” We make this request because we know that temptation is not, as geographers like to say, ubiquitous. Its properties and potencies vary from place to place. In one place temptation is as faint and tenuous as wood smoke from a distant chimney, in another as overpowering and lethal as a cloud of mustard gas.

In asking God to “lead us not into temptation,” we also acknowledge our weakness, our inability to withstand temptation that is sufficiently strong and specially tuned to our own peculiar hungers and hankerings. We can hold up to a whiff of wood smoke, but will go down before a cloud of mustard gas.

Any man who would remain righteous must remember these two things: temptation is not ubiquitous and he himself is weak. And with these things in mind, he directs his steps accordingly. Continue reading

Cultural Diversity Update

Tweets trying to avoid the implications of the Paris shootings

It was only in a series of Facebook interchanges with a FB friend on the topic of the Syrian refugees that I really understood for the first time how much liberals hate Western culture. I could not understand why he did not care about the potential damage to host countries. That same ‘friend’ is reposting tweets on FB. “If we don’t use reason in the face of evil and murder and horror, then what good is reason at all?” “Don’t allow this horrific act to allow you to be drawn into the loss of your humanity or tolerance. That is the intended outcome.” “Wanna shatter the Islamist extremist worldview? Show them we aren’t separate or different and don’t hate each and can be eternal friends.” “You know what pissed off Islamist extremists the most about Europe? It was watching their very humane, moral response to the refugee crisis.” “I pray that not all immigrants are lumped into a mass of hatred. Most of them flee this very same kind of terror, not cause it.”

The tweets desperately try to forestall drawing logical, rational conclusions about the wisdom of Muslim immigration to Europe from the Paris shootings.

Self-Sealing Fallacy

Philosophers refer to something called “the self-sealing fallacy.” This fallacy occurs when a factual claim is made and a counter-example is provided refuting the original claim. The person making the factual claim then amends his original statement to make it immune to counter-examples by producing a tautology – a statement true by definition.

All children like ice cream.

But Judy is a child and she doesn’t like ice cream.

Judy isn’t a real child at all. Real children love ice cream.

The last statement makes it true by definition that children like ice cream. This forestalls refutation through counter-example. However, one has gone from making a factual claim about the world to producing a tautology that is not saying anything about the world anymore; it is merely an arbitrary and silly attempt to redefine a word for one’s own purposes.

Self-Sealing Fallacy and Muslim Immigration

My claim: welcoming millions of Syrian refugees into Europe is likely to cause problems. One of them is that within that population is likely to be individuals who see it as their mission to destroy Western culture. Another problem is that the refugees in their extremely large numbers are likely to significantly harm that culture in predictable and unpredictable ways. Cultural suicide is a bad idea for immigrants and the host culture. Among other things, in inviting a sizable immigrant population in with a culture incompatible with and hostile to the host culture, one risks creating the very conditions (violent and/or impoverished, “intolerance”) that the immigrant population is fleeing.

Continue reading

Christers and the Smart Set

I have a friend of long standing who suffers periodic paroxysms of rage against Christians, whom he calls “Christers” to underscore his contempt. I have pointed out that the term is a slur at which one might take offense, but he is attached to it and I am attached to him, so what am I going to do? When he used the term recently, however, it started me wondering where the word came from, and I think you may be interested in what I found.

Everyone has heard the quote, “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” This is always attributed to Voltaire, although apparently without warrant, since there is no record of his having said it. In fact, it is most probably a refinement of a statement first made in 1993 by Kevin Alfred Strom, a White Nationalist who was thinking of his persecution for Holocaust denial. Whatever its provenance, it is now an internet meme, and rightly so, since it neatly encapsulates a self-evident truth. Power has its privileges, one of them being lèse-majesté.

We can invert this and say that a sure sign of powerlessness is the absence of lèse-majesté. In other words, “to learn who the truly marginal nobodies are, simply ask who you are allowed to criticize.” Criticize here means mock, ridicule and call rude names. To lay the proposition out fully, we should state it thus: “to learn who the truly marginal nobodies are, simply ask who you are allowed to mock, ridicule and call rude names in polite society.” If you can make a group the butt of a joke, or the object of scorn, and still be invited to the next wine and cheese party, that group has no lèse-majesté. They are marginal nobodies.

Which brings me to the subject of Christers, a group more or less bereft of lèse-majesté. It has been close to a hundred years since anyone was dropped from fashionable guest lists for mocking Christers.

Continue reading

Voegelin on Gnosticism – A Revisitation

Gnosis 02

Eric Voegelin’s critique of modernity claims that Liberalism, the creed of the Enlightenment, is “Gnostic.” Voegelin (1901-1985) drew the term “Gnosticism” from its scholarly application in theological discussion to a strain of Late Antique religiosity. The term “Gnostic” refers to that array of sects and cults, the adherents of which saw themselves, as forming a saintly elect among the perishing masses on account of their possessing, as their souls, sparks of divinity that had become trapped in the world of matter. The ancient Gnostics abhorred the world of matter and claimed to sojourn in it only as exiles from a realm of pure light, which was the “real” world despite appearances. Voegelin labeled Gnosticism an anticosmic rebellion, a rebellion against reality, emphasizing the tendency of Gnostics to construct what – borrowing from novelists Robert Musil and Heimito von Doderer – he called a second reality built on principles contrary to those governing what morally and intellectually adjusted people understand to be the actual or first reality. Gnosticism for Voegelin constitutes a social pathology for the reason that the upholders of the second reality, once having invested their emotion in it, make it a fetish and regard criticism of it as lèse majesté. Organized Gnosticism tends to become a censorious war, a jihad, to protect the second reality from examination and, more aggressively, to coerce assent to the second reality’s existence.

It belongs to Voegelin’s critique of modernity as the re-emergence of Gnosticism that its object – the social pathology of the political religions – corresponds to an attitude (namely, rebuke) rather than to some specific doctrine that has persisted since antiquity. Voegelin never meant to argue that let us say the Valentinian speculation or Manichaeism as such could be identified with Marxism, National Socialism, Leninism, Feminism, Multiculturalism, or any other particular ismatic discourse. Yet, as Voegelin saw it, the ancient and the modern rebellions stubbornly resembled one another in their basic dispositions. When, therefore, in his posthumous In Search of Order (1987), Voegelin alludes to the characteristic modern “divinization of men,” he takes as his exemplar of the genus “the Feuerbach-Marx divinization of man,” whose purpose consists in “explaining divine reality as a human projection that, if returned to man, will produce full humanity.” That normative consciousness is false, that religion is false, that institutions are false and tyrannical, and that only an elite recognizes the situation: These motifs structure both ancient Gnostic speculation and modern ideological discourse – both of which envision their fulfillment in the abolition, one way or another, of existing reality.

Voegelin distinguishes the ancient and modern rebellions in this way: “At the extreme of the revolt in consciousness, ‘reality’ and the ‘Beyond’ become two separate entities, two ‘things’ to be magically manipulated by suffering man for the purpose of either abolishing ‘reality’ altogether and escaping into the ‘Beyond,’ or of forcing the order of the ‘Beyond’ into ‘reality.’ The first of the magic alternatives is preferred by the gnostics of antiquity, the second one by the modern gnostic thinkers.”

Continue reading

Cultural Diversity

With this post, we are happy to welcome philosopher Professor Richard Cocks as a regular contributor to the Orthosphere. Moral philosophy has been the focus of most of his essays published by such sites agreeable to the orthosphere as Brussels Journal and People of Shambhala, and in guest posts here. As befits a thinker who can be characterized rightly as Traditionalist – or, perhaps rather, simply realistic – Dr. Cocks has been interested to understand emotion in terms of the whole, true man. As no man is an island, neither is anything of man really isolable; so that it is at our peril that we neglect or denigrate such of man as the modern age has overlooked. Professor Cocks has been concerned to notice what our commissars have bid us ignore. KL


Culture, in the anthropological sense, is a combination of language and traditions involving values, ideas about education, cooking, family life and public life. Culture represents a certain level of agreement about what’s important, what’s respectable, success and failure and about how one ought to conduct one’s life and treat each other.

Cultures attain their distinctive character by being somewhat cut off from other cultures. There is a parochial aspect to culture. Diversity is made possible by separation. If every culture becomes cosmopolitan, then every culture becomes the same. Diversity within all cultures would mean no diversity at all. So is cultural diversity a good thing? Not if it becomes a global phenomenon, because diversity would be self-nullifying.

Continue reading