Gratitude and culture, and why America has no culture

It’s said that the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals don’t feel gratitude for what they’ve inherited, but that’s not true.  Liberals do express admiration and gratitude, but of a particular kind.  They are grateful for those daring individuals who “challenged injustice” or “made the world a better place”.  Establishing and maintaining a social order doesn’t earn much recognition from them, because “mere” social continuity is supposed to happen automatically.  Being a conservative, and–even more–being a parent, I find myself having more and more appreciation for all our humble, forgotten ancestors who just did the arduous job of keeping civilization going.  There were times when just keeping a new generation alive until adulthood was an extremely difficult task.  Passing on our moral and cultural inheritance is still extremely difficult.  It doesn’t happen automatically–just look at what happened when one (post-WWII) generation decided not to bother.

What have blacks contributed to our civilization?” asks Lawrence Auster, and he concludes that they have not contributed to civilization (although he grants that they have contributed to our culture, especially music).  My first thought:  well, they passed it on to their own children.  My second thought:  I don’t want to point a finger at blacks, because what have American Christians of any color contributed to American civilization?  I’m serious.  Most Americans are Christians, but of our country’s greatest statesmen, writers, composers, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs, how many are Christian?  There might have been one or two, but I can’t think of many.  This isn’t a “Christians are dumb” lament.  Look at England, the mother country; during America’s lifetime, there have been great English Christian writers (e.g. Eliot) and scientists (e.g. Faraday).  Black Christians may actually have been a more creative force in our culture than white Christians, although white Christians have (necessarily, because of our numbers) been the greatest preservative force.

The English monarchy is much more representative of its people than our democracy.  The English sovereign has these past two centuries shared the national religion.  Who was America’s first Christian president?  I mean a real Christian, as in someone not thought to be a deist or a unitarian and who therefore might have believed in the Trinity.  According to this list it was Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, who became a Presbyterian after leaving the presidency.  (Note however that Washington’s deism is a matter of dispute.)  Don’t stop there, though.  Do follow the list down to see what an irreligious lot our presidents have been.  “Government of deist freemasons, by deist freemasons, for deist freemasons.”

White America has no culture.  Culture is the stories a people tells itself.  In America, there are producers of stories–movie and television makers, mostly atheist, and a disproportionate number of these atheists being apostate Jews who don’t even have childhood memories of belonging to the majority faith.  Then there are the passive consumers of stories–our “Christian America”.  The two are separate and unmixed.  This is commercialism, not culture. If atheists or Jews would write stories for their own consumption rather than ours, that would at least be real culture, although it wouldn’t be our culture.  It’s not the fault of the atheists and Jews that Christian America isn’t expressing itself in a higher–or even a popular–culture.  The fault is ours for abdicating cultural creation to the atheists, trusting them to express our communal consciousness for us.  But this is something they can’t do, even if they wanted to, because they don’t share it.

Never is the lack of a Christian culture more obvious than when a television show tries to have a sympathetic Christian character.  Here there’s no malice to blind the screenwriters, but the portrayal is still definitely off.  They can’t capture the idiom.  They’re not Christians, and they don’t interact with Christians.  They’re in the same position as a Chinaman or a Turk writing a story about American Christians.

Why is it that American “culture” has spread throughout the world and become so popular so quickly?  Is it because it’s so good?  That can’t be it.  Could it be because it’s already not a culture, but a product for export and consumption?  It’s already rootless, with no ties to a particular people or place, with no “in jokes” that only a single culture would catch.

71 thoughts on “Gratitude and culture, and why America has no culture

  1. A few points:

    1. The arts have always tended towards the animistic and polytheistic, which reflects people’s religious intuitions, if they have them. While there have been exceptions, most poets and writers, even in indisputably Christian societies, have not been orthodox Christians. This may be more pronounced in America, but it is an extension of a trend found elsewhere.

    (On the other hand, Christians have tended to dominate literary criticism from Dryden and Johnson through Coleridge and Chesterton down to Eliot, Lewis and Auden.)

    2. T.S. Eliot was an American. Hawthorne seems pretty Christian. And though I’m not sure what her personal beliefs were, Dickinsen was always wrestling with orthodox theology. But you’re right that the rest are a bunch of pagans at best.

    Never is the lack of a Christian culture more obvious than when a television show tries to have a sympathetic Christian character. Here there’s no malice to blind the screenwriters, but the portrayal is still definitely off.

    The only exception to this is The Simpsons, at least for the first few seasons.

    “Homer the Heretic” is the best of the religious themed episodes

    • The Man Who Was: “1. The arts have always tended towards the animistic and polytheistic, which reflects people’s religious intuitions, if they have them.”

      Hollywood is severely anti-pagan. The typical Greek hero is misotheist, like Achilles hacking off the head of a statue of Apollo in the spirit of Richard Dawkins in Troy (2004), or Philip teaching his son Alexander that all Greeks hate their gods and worship them only for fear of the return of the even more hateful Titans in Alexander (2004), or Perseus in Clash of the Titans (2010).

      The nearest thing Hollywood produces to a human vindicator of the (pagan) divine will is Indiana Jones accusing Mola Ram of betraying Shiva in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). There is your sympathetic and perceptive portrait of pagan religion as best Hollywood can do it.

      Here at least strategy and sentiment are one: Hollywood hates the gods of the White non-Jews on pure religious grounds, and guiding Whites to hate their own gods, the only ones that might have any sympathy for their collective survival, is satisfactory in terms of the grand project and in harmony with Christianity.

      Of course there’s also Black Heimdall in multicultural, multiracial Asgard in Thor (2011). I’d call that mere insolence, except that multiracial Asgard goes beyond that in wiping away the idea that Whites might have any gods or even dreams of their own.

      This is commerce mixed with poison. It’s the gaudy (and profitable) side of a genocidal anti-culture, promoted for the ruin and ultimately the elimination of those who consume it.

      • I don’t think it is Jewish hostility to paganism that has made it this way. A lot of people in Hollywood just don’t understand the religious impulse in any form.

  2. As a bit of an addendum, Christianity and other monotheism tends to have a more rationalized theology and a more abstract god, which are less congenial to art. Its better for storytelling if the gods lose their temper, occasionally fornicate, or even, in cases like the Norse gods, die.

    • Give the Christians this: they have a concrete god too. What the Norse gods do best is get maimed in a good cause and soldier on nobly, like Tiw and Odin, but Jesus gets scourged too, and if Balder dies and comes back so does Jesus, and so on. It can make for good and very profitable art, as Mel Gibson proved with The Passion of the Christ (2004).

      Hollywood isn’t willing to make that art. Never mind lacking the culture and the capacity, it’s not willing to support those that do and are ready at hand. Hollywood is willing, nay determined, to pass up the huge profits to be had. Ultimately this is not about commerce, it’s about hate. It’s about the promotion of a destructive anti-culture for an ultimately genocidal purpose.

      • Or the whole corpus of the Renaissance. Or innumerable musical settings for the Mass. Or the architecture of Cathedrals. Etc, etc, etc. Christianity is highly conducive to great art and to all the other expressions of high culture.

      • I agree very much with what Bill said.

        And you don’t have to be Christian to appreciate this stuff, or contribute to it (for example with Hector Berlioz’s tremendous Requiem), or to make a buck out of it.

        Only hatred with strong ethnic, cultural and intellectual roots continually suppresses what is obviously good and profitable and freely available to all.

      • Painting and music have been pretty congenial for Christian themes. Literature not so much. Not really sure why.

      • It’s because the basic matter of literature, poetry, and drama is the play of novel ideas about how to relate to the world, and how to behave. Thus, the “novel”. Novel ideas are almost always, by definition, heterodox. Like all untested notions, the ideas they proffer as credible are more likely than not to be lethal. But in a wealthy society, with a huge margin of error, that lethality is obscured, and their other attractive characteristics – e.g., their appeal to equity, or to consistency, or to parsimony – may tend to make them on the whole attractive, and thus successful and perdurant.

        Music, on the other hand, and to a lesser extent painting and sculpture, have real things as their material. Tones, rhythms, the constraints and properties of instruments, of paints, of stone or steel: these things impose a de minimis discipline and logic upon the musician, painter or sculptor.

      • The Man Who Was said:Painting and music have been pretty congenial for Christian themes. Literature not so much. Not really sure why. I think it’s more than that. It’s sculpture, architecture, philosophy, science, and etc. If by literature, you mean fiction, then I agree with you, at least in the sense that there is not that much written fiction which affirms Christian themes. Plenty of it deals in those themes, whether consciously or not. Do you want to say that Dostoyevsky’s work lacks Christian themes, for example?

    • Kristor:

      No the reason is pretty simple. As I said before its better for storytelling if the gods lose their temper, occasionally fornicate, or even, in cases like the Norse gods, die. The best stories in the Bible are in Genesis, where Yahweh is human, all too human, though not quite to the extent of Thor or Zeus. Stories require change, faults etc. to keep them interesting, while paintings and statues do not. As for music, it is itself in many ways the most abstract of the arts.

      Tolkien. Dante. Milton.

      Dante struggles through the much of the Paradiso, though there are some amazing passages. Milton was a heretic whose poem ends up glorifying Satan, though possibly against his intentions. Tolkien, whatever his merits as a storyteller, is the worst prose stylist I have ever read.

      Out of all the major poets in English (Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Yeats, Lawrence, Whitman, Dickensen, Frost, Stevens) I am only confident that Chaucer, Spenser, Donne, and Dryden were unequivocally orthodox Christians. About 20%.

      As Goethe said, as a poet he was a polytheist. One should also read Samuel Johnson on devotional poetry. See here.

      • Well, one can say of any artist either, “He’s not really very good, even though he’s world famous,” or “He’s not really very orthodox, even though he thought of himself as a Christian.”

      • Kristor:

        Really. Really. Donne is both orthodox and very good. So far as we can tell, so was Chaucer etc.

        Blake and Tennyson may have thought of themselves as Christian, but were they really much closer than Emerson or Whitman? Mormons are basically polytheists, but they still think of themselves as Christians. Would we count Mormons, or even Muslims as Christians?

  3. It is probably a mixture of the old Puritan mindset coupled with capitalist individualism. There is no place for any sort of contemplative life no place for a true sense of lesiure. Both of these are Catholic concepts so it makes sense that the United Mason Snakes would exemplify the opposite. Reactionaries would do well to cultivate the virtues of leisure and the contemplative. It also shows that far from the feminists or hard left being our greatest adversary it is the right-liberals who reactionaries should focus the most on.

  4. I had this thought a while ago (I remember being criticized for my impiety, but perhaps that was another post I’m thinking of). The Founders are typically held to be America’s greatest thinkers, but that’s a pretty sorry reflection on us. What great philosophical insights did they have, really, besides aping the (utterly meritless) philosophical spirit of their age and developing it along just a little bit further? On the stage of history, they’re third-rate thinkers at best, and it was all downhill from there.

    The problem, I think, is that America was the first nation founded to be a thing pretty much exclusively of the world. If you aim for Heaven you get the earth thrown in, but if you aim for earth, you get neither. European culture was at its best when it wasn’t trying to produce culture but simply to honor God.

  5. what have American Christians of any color contributed to American civilization?

    That’s a pretty interesting question. American civilization’s contribution to the world is technology, so I went looking for Christians among our most important inventors. Caveat: this is the product of some googling, not any kind of exhaustive research. Behold:

    Kary Mullis (polymerase chain reaction): atheist
    William Shockley (transistor): atheist
    Robert Noyce (microchip): atheist
    Thomas Edison (light bulb, etc): deist
    Jack Kilby (microchip): ??????
    Charles Townes (maser,laser): United Church of Christ
    Alexander Graham Bell (phone): agnostic (not born in US either)
    John Browning (lotsa guns): Mormon
    John Colt (lotsa guns): Episcopalian
    Willis Carrier (air conditioning): Presbyterian (maybe not born in US)
    Henry Ford (moving assembly line): Episcopalian
    Robert Fulton (steamboat): ?????
    Charles Goodyear (vulcanized rubber): Congregationalist
    Robert Morse (telegraph, Morse code): Protestant
    Jonas Salk (Polio vaccine): Humanist (?)
    Wright brothers (airplane): nominal Protestant (?)

    This is a lot of the most famous American inventors. Problematically, though, there are so many inventions by Americans. How do you deal with things like Tupperware and the Post-It Note and a bazillion other things? All these bazillions of small inventions were invented by somebody. All these little inventions, cumulatively, are pretty clearly an important part of America’s bequest to humanity, generally, so you can’t just ignore them. Were a lot of them invented by Christians? Probably. Were a lot of them invented by blacks? Certainly not. If the forces of PC have to bleat about the “invention” of peanut butter, there can’t be much else. And, indeed, there is not.

    This is a pretty poor showing for Christians, however. How’s about we try Nobel Prizes for Americans? The problem with this is that there are so many. The physics and chemistry lists just teem with Americans. Wikipedia has the annoying tendency not to mention religion at all in its biographical articles on scientists. I am not up to laboriously trying to figure out the religion of each of these guys.

    • A more germane website for documenting the paucity of black invention can be found here.

      Sites that tell the truth about minorities have an unfortunate habit of disappearing. Should this one evaporate into the ether, too, search for “black invention myths.”

      Incidentally, peanut butter was “invented” by the Aztecs. Two patents for making it were issued in the 19th century, but Carver did not begin his “research” on peanuts until 1903.

    • First, where did you get the incorrect idea that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter? It was actually Marcellus Gilmore Edson (a white guy) who is credited with that invention.
      Second, below are a list of people hold invention patents for devices that revolutionized technology in America (all black).
      Charles Drew- developed the technique for preserving blood that made blood banks possible.
      Daniel Hale Williams- performed the first successful open heart surgery where the patient survived (an additional 51 years after surgery).
      Garrett Morgan- designed the modern traffic light.
      Gerald A. Lawson- creator of the first home gaming system.
      James E. West- co-developer of the electroacoustic transducer microphone (90% of microphones in use today, including telephones and recording devices, are based on this design).
      Patricia Bath- creator of the cataract laserphaco probe.
      Thomas Jennings- invented dry cleaning.
      Mark Dean- co-inventor of the personal computer.
      Otis F. Boykin- patented the type of resistor used in radios, televisions, and computers today.
      invented the control unit for the pacemaker.
      Fredrick M. Jones- designed a mobile refrigeration unit that led to perishable foods being available across a much wider portion of the population.
      Valerie Thomas- patented the illusion transmitter (an early form of 3-D technology).
      Eric Williams- redesigned the cardiac stent to be placed without open heart surgery (less invasive, cheaper, and offers a better prognosis for patients).

      Third, maybe you should stop bleating utter nonsense, and instead use the internet to learn something (as all this information came from a 10 second google search).

  6. America has for most of its history been looked down upon by the European glitterati as declasse, far too individualist, too religious, too iconoclastic, too hard-working to be taken seriously culturally. This changed dramatically after WWII, where we became the world’s number one exporter of culture. Results have been mixed, overall, but Europe doesn’t look down on us anymore. They look up to us now, as a prisoner of war looks up to his captor, a dirty boot firmly impressed upon his neck. As Moldbug is fond of saying, there are three actually sovereign states in the world today: Russia, China, and the “International Community”, a term that can be interchanged with “US State Department” with almost no loss of meaning.

  7. If you mean, Bonald, that there is no one cultural narrative in America the way, I suppose, there is in a Shi’ite state, then probably you’re right. However, , I think there’s a persistent American culture. It has keynotes such as these:

    1.There’s a God, and the individual is competent to access Him without the necessity of church and priest. One variant would say the individual does need the Bible, another wouldn’t require the Bible.

    2.Appreciation of natural beauty is part of what it means to be an American. Our shores, mountains, meadows, forests are truly beautiful — this is not simply an “in the eye of the beholder” thing. But beauty with regard to music, art, literature is not very important for us; you can go in for that if you are interested in it; it is a shame when a beautiful old building is torn down and replaced by a parking lot or a drab new one, but that’s part of the price of progress.

    3.You can always start over again. Americans believe in being sorry for the mess you have made of your life and also that you can turn things around. One variant says you need God’s help to do this, another leaves God out.

    4.We are conscious of the fact that our forbears were less comfortable than we are. One variant is that their lives were hard and lacking in dignity, another is that their lives were hard and had dignity. But we are comfortable and they are not, and we spend a lot of time with activities that involve physical or emotional comfort. The forbears we think about are generally quite recent ones.

    I think those keynotes would generally apply to our music, literature, religion, journalism, politics, etc. However I could be wrong.

  8. In our time, I think this, via Ann Althouse, is a perfect symbolic representation of Christianity’s role.

    Oral argument in the Supreme Court today over Arizona’s approach to illegal immigration.

    Outside, a group of clergy in white robes led opponents of the Arizona law in what they called a Jericho Walk around the Supreme Court.

    The procession is reference to the biblical story of Joshua, who led the Israelites around the enemy city of Jericho seven times before blowing trumpets and shouting, bringing down the city’s walls.

    Ann Althouse objects to the Christian clergy muddling their symbols by directing God to to the United States Supreme Court as the object of destruction.

    Yes, modern Christianity does muddle its symbols, constantly. This however is clear enough.

    The United States of America is, and by extension all historically White nations are, besieged, like the inhabitants of Jericho hiding behind their walls. The role of Christianity is that of Joshua blowing the trumpet and bring down the walls, to the utter destruction of that civilization and all its people.

    Christianity has the advantage of doing so from inside the city. I think this is the greatest betrayal in history.

    What is the ultimate value, the ultimate payoff, of culture created on this moral basis?

    • Nah. The clergy doing their Jericho walk are not doing so because they are Christians, but because they are liberals. They use their Christianity in the service of their liberalism. They serve two gods. They are idolaters.

      The role of Christianity is that of Joshua blowing the trumpet and bringing down the walls? Tell that to Don Juan of Austria and the Holy League, to Jan Sobieski and Charles Martel. Tell it to Pope Urban.

      It doesn’t matter what the ruling religion or ideology is, and it doesn’t matter whether it is true or good in itself. Evil will do its utomost to use that religion or ideology. This is a constant in human affairs; like entropy in physics.

      I mean, I sympathize with the feelings you express, but I think you have mistaken the true enemy.

      • If I saw Muslim clergy doing this I would take it as evidence of Islamic hostility to Christendom. If it was Rabbis doing this I would take it as evidence of Jewish religious antagonism to gentile White America. Since it’s Christians, I take this as being an issue with modern Christianity.

        If I thought abstractions like “Evil” or “liberalism” were the true agents of history, I’d give a pass not only to Christianity but to all religious, ethnic and other groups.

        There’d be no need for maps nor demographics nor any study of history, war or anything else. It would suffice for me to close my eyes to the play of shadows in the cave, and imagine that if I could look behind me I would see light (Good!) and obstructions that create an impression of active darkness (Bad!).

      • Adaptation and biology aren’t agents either. Concepts aren’t agents. That doesn’t mean we can’t use them as shorthand, does it? If it does, then it isn’t really legit for you to use them, either. This includes your use of the concept “Christianity.”

      • “It doesn’t matter what the ruling religion or ideology is, and it doesn’t matter whether it is true or good in itself. Evil will do its utomost to use that religion or ideology. This is a constant in human affairs; like entropy in physics.”

        I think a biological perspective is more helpful. When you see one group of creatures doing something that is destructive for them, look first to see if that something may be helpful in ways that are not obvious, as for example male battles for the right to mate can be, but if that doesn’t work, suspect that some other group of creatures is tricking and exploiting the first group.

        From this perspective, Judaism is a religion that understands itself correctly. (“The law is for the people, not the people for the law.”) Christianity comes off as a misunderstanding in which the people are sacrificed for the sake of some metaphysical ornamentation and the practical, collective question “how can we he saved?” receives a dreadfully mistaken individualist answer. And the various new alternatives to Christianity that are being foisted on people are not even wrong, they are cultural Marxist weapons intended to deconstruct certain majorities so thoroughly that they can never again be majorities, and so that they will go downhill indefinitely from now to their end.

        Things like “liberalism,” “multiculturalism” and so on have no agency or life. They’re like swords to be wielded in collective combat. Their value is in the wounds they inflict on the targeted populations by reshaping culture in ways that are unadaptive for those populations.

        To the extent that our culture is all about these weapons of our destruction, we have no real culture.

      • Kristor: “Adaptation and biology aren’t agents either. Concepts aren’t agents. That doesn’t mean we can’t use them as shorthand, does it?”

        Fair enough. If you have in mind powers and principalities that you believe to be real and active, “Evil” or “liberalism” may serve as shorthand for them.

        Kristor: “The rejection of metaphysics as an approach to ordering thought, life, and society is itself a metaphysical move.”


        I just think a biologically rooted approach is helpful in the kind of culture war we are all in.

        But when I’m asked “helpful for whom,” and “why should I or you for that matter care about them?” and “why be helpful in general?” I rapidly fall back on high level abstractions of my own, about order and chaos and natural and proper group loyalties. So obviously I haven’t advanced further from “abstract metaphysics” than you, even if a consistent rejection of metaphysics was a good thing, which I don’t think it is.

      • Daybreaker,
        Your error is revealed by the comment at 5:14: You think the primary good is the biological good of your race. I’m not saying this isn’t something worth dying for, but it is not primary.

      • Daybreaker, I agree that a biological approach is effective. It’s just that it doesn’t suffice. One can’t argue from biology because the things one is arguing against – homosexuality, say, or suicide, or liberalism – are all things that are being done by bio-logical entities. To show that suicide is wrong, you need an “ought.” And biology can’t furnish that. We may, to be sure, understand the biological effects or functions of morality, but we cannot turn to biology for an account of what makes acts right or wrong. All we can get from biology is a description of acts.

        The bottom line for me is that any argument that Christianity is to blame for the geopolitical decay of the West is going to have a difficult time coping with the huge counterexample provided by the last 1500 years. The West’s difficulties have increased as its Christianity has decreased.

      • To show that suicide is wrong, you need an “ought.” And biology can’t furnish that. We may, to be sure, understand the biological effects or functions of morality, but we cannot turn to biology for an account of what makes acts right or wrong. All we can get from biology is a description of acts.

        This reads like a denial of the entire natural law tradition of the West, stretching back, as it does, to the ancient Greeks. It’s hard to see how, for example, a Catholic could believe this, contradicting as it does Augustine, Aquinas, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Veritatis Splendor, Humanea Vitae, and others. In fact, it sounds like something David Hume might say. There is little that is Ortho about this sort of is/ought distinction. Surely you meant to say something very different from what these words appear to mean.

        Daybreaker may be wrong when he uses natural law arguments, but he is not wrong by using natural law arguments.

      • Oy, are you kidding? Biological reductionism != natural law. If this is confusing to you, maybe you should try re-reading the Summa.

      • Are you kidding? Kristor says you can’t get “oughts” from “ises” in biology, pretty much in those words. Explicitly. Natural law is largely about getting “oughts” from “ises” in biology. The whole point of the thing is that you can get to the moral law by looking at nature, specifically biology. That biology’s “ises” give you “oughts.”

        Look at his specific example. “To show that suicide is wrong, you need an ‘ought.’ And biology can’t furnish that.” Here is the Summa: It is altogether unlawful to kill oneself, for three reasons. First, because everything naturally loves itself, the result being that everything naturally keeps itself in being, and resists corruptions so far as it can. Wherefore suicide is contrary to the inclination of nature, and to charity whereby every man should love himself. Hence suicide is always a mortal sin, as being contrary to the natural law and to charity. Right there in St Thomas’s first reason are facts of biology. You can argue that Daybreaker is doing natural law badly, and maybe that is what Kristor was trying to say. But that is not the denotative meaning of his words.

        I’m not saying Daybreaker is right (in fact, I don’t find this particular argument very compelling), rather I’m saying that rejecting this kind of reasoning in toto is mistaken.

        And, seriously now, when someone starts saying you can’t get “ought” from “is,” you think that is consistent with natural law?

      • Thanks, bonald. That’s pretty much what I was going to say to Bill. Perhaps I was misreading him, but it seemed to me that Daybreaker was relying on a reductive biological explanation, such as those employed by Darwinists. For the Darwinist, there is no true ought anywhere in nature; things all rather just happen. In a world without purposes, such as the Darwinist world, there can be no such thing as success or failure, and no such thing therefore as value, or obligation. So Darwinists can’t make moral arguments; such arguments are, so far as they are concerned, inapposite to reality, properly construed.

        And it was this that I was pressing home upon Daybreaker. He needs to get an ought somewhere, if he is going to reason morally. An ateleological biology cannot furnish any such thing.

        I myself am at the opposite end of the spectrum. It seems absurd to me to suggest that nature is ateleological. On the contrary, our only information about what it is like to exist – namely, our own experience – suggests just the opposite. So it makes more sense to me to suggest that nature is pervasively infused with teloi, and therefore also with moral valence. Indeed I may be more of a natural law fanatic than Bill. So far as I am concerned, physical law is a department of moral law. This is the only way I can make sense of the suasive force of physical law. So it seems to me that every instance of our world has moral valence.

        I am a reductionist too; but I reduce biology to morality, rather than going the other way.

      • Hi Bonald,

        I remember that post, and I see that it is related, but I’m having trouble seeing how I should change my view in light of it (or are you agreeing with me and expanding?). Specifically, St Thomas’s principle “good is to be pursued” just is the denial of the is/ought distinction, since St Thomas is using good here in the is sense of “a good example of a man” rather than in the ought sense of “a good man.” No?

      • Bill: the only view I would suggest you consider changing is the view that I believe the is/ought distinction to be correct. But this should be a relief to you, as you could then relax about it.

        For Thomists such as me, the is-ought distinction is indeed bogus. But for reductionist materialists, it is not. When one is arguing with a materialist, it doesn’t work to presuppose things – like finality in nature – that he denies. That will just open up a whole new can of worms. It works much better, in my experience, to start by showing him that his ontology is incoherent on its own terms. And, taking Daybreaker to be such a one – again, I may well have misread him – that is what I was trying to do.

      • Hello Bill,

        I would say that the two concepts, metaphysical good and moral obligation, remain distinct concepts that are connected by the fundamental principle of practical reasoning (FPPR). If they weren’t distinct concepts, the FPPR would be a tautology, but it isn’t. It’s an a priori synthetic statement.

        The reasoning goes like this:

        Worshipping God is my good. (metaphysical “is” statement about teleology)
        I should do what it is good for me to do. (FPPR, the “ought” generator)
        Therefore, I should worship God.

        Hume was right that that one can distinguish purely amoral facts from moral facts, and that one cannot generate the latter by conjoining any number of the former. In that sense, I do accept the “is/ought distinction”. Nevertheless, St. Thomas has made no logical error. For him, the fundamental principle of practical reasoning is as certainly known as any amoral fact.

        I would not call myself a Thomist, at least in ethics, because I don’t like Aquinas’ way of bridging the is-ought divide. I prefer Jesus’ way. His fundamental principle of practical reason is “love God and neighbor”. The way natural philosophical data (derived from biology and other sources) can enter in is they tell us what is good for people and hence what it means to love them.

      • Wow Bonald, that was amazingly well said. A very subtle distinction that I have felt but never seen articulated before. Thank you.

        I’ve long harbored a suspicion that Hume was a covert operative really on the side of the angels.

      • Bonald,

        So how, on your view, does Natural Law work? Is there Natural Law at all? If so, how are we supposed to discover ought from is w/o recourse to that Jesus guy—and this ability to discover ought from is w/o revelation is the whole point of the thing.

      • Hume was right that that one can distinguish purely amoral facts from moral facts, and that one cannot generate the latter by conjoining any number of the former. In that sense, I do accept the “is/ought distinction”. Nevertheless, St. Thomas has made no logical error. For him, the fundamental principle of practical reasoning is as certainly known as any amoral fact.

        But is there such a thing as a purely amoral fact? It would seem that a fact could be amoral only if it was ateleological – if, that is to say, it was deficiently caused, or, in other words, irrational. A creature without a telos, without any final causation, would not tend to any given end. This would make it impossible to decide whether it was defective – whether it was a virtuous thing of its type – because it would make it impossible to know whether, or by how much, it had missed its target, there being no such thing. One could not say of such a thing that it was either good or bad. So it would be amoral.

        But then it would also be irrational, just because it would not be ordered; its act would not be coordinated to anything. So it would be absolutely unintelligible.

        But this in turn would mean that the ateleological fact was not coordinated to any causal order. Such a fact would not be a member of any orderly world. And a fact is factual by virtue of its efficacy as a factor of some act; so that “a fact that is not a member of a world,” and therefore factual to no act, is a contradiction in terms. Either a fact is factual to some act, or it is not factual at all.

        So we see that the morality of a fact is ineluctably tied up with its ontological status as a properly ordered element of a world. To be is to be in some sense obliged to behave in a certain way (leaving aside the question whether obligation toward an end can make any sense in the utter absence of any degree of freedom in meeting that obligation, and thus in attaining that end)(let’s just say that I don’t think it really does)(for one thing, no entity that was not free to err could manifest any entropy).

        Facts, then, all have some moral character. And this seems to be why the fundamental principle of practical reasoning has any suasion (whether in thought or behavior). If their moral character did not inhere in facts, and of the acts that produced them, as an aspect of what makes them just the sort of facts and acts that they are, then on what basis could we say that we ought to do what is good to do? What would connect the goodness of an act with its propriety? The goodness and the oughtness of an act would seem to be different aspects of its telos, so that its goodness consists in its propriety, and vice versa: a thing’s ordination to its proper end just is that which is good for it, mutatis mutandis.

  9. “Why is it that American “culture” has spread throughout the world and become so popular so quickly? Is it because it’s so good? That can’t be it.”

    Technically speaking, it is that good. The spectacle offered by (for example) Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) on IMAX is unprecedented.

    Also, Hollywood has been in the privileged position of speaking for the global hegemon and defining its “culture” but having no loyalty to its people. It does not have the burden of upholding and defending at all. It can mock and demean and do every kind of scandalous and culturally destructive thing, and it does. It’s like the trustee for a child who was to come into great wealth disparaging and harming the child in every way, and burning his mansion, like a party of wasters having a decades long party at someone else’s expense.

    I don’t blame people for finding it hard to look away. This really is an amazing spectacle.

    And its a spectacle that is is flattering and satisfactory for every nation that is or has been in some sense a rival of White Americans, the “acceptable target” of Hollywood’s cruel mockery.

  10. I confess a continuing puzzlement as to why Larry Auster is held in such high regard by so many writers and thinkers that I admire. Whenever I’ve ventured over to VFR, on there rare occasion I wasn’t bored I was irritated.

    I’m not going to bother arguing the premise presented, because it’s a little too broad to be talked about intelligently. However, I think the story of Frederick Hart is relevant to the discussion about the lack of Christian contributions to American culture.

    I think the final paragraph is good, except that I would stop short of saying the what is exported around the globe by this country is synonymous with American culture.

    • Sorry to be so late to the party, but…

      There are many reasons why people hold Lawrence Auster’s writing in high regard. One is the clarity with which he wrote: when you read his writings, you know what he means by them. Another is his logic: he developed ideas rationally. Perhaps the foremost reason is that he understood what is wrong in the modern world, and explained the underlying reasons why. He often had specific and concrete ideas about how things could be changed for the better, and it was all based on a consistent philosophical/ideological approach.

      I think he made liberalism more explicit to us than it is to liberals, and for that alone—making intelligible the unintelligible—he has our regard.

      Of course, the intelligent and well-moderated discussions he hosted factor in as well.

      Having said all that, I understand that not everyone “gets” him. Not everyone likes Bach, either.

  11. Bonald:
    Your post contains part of the answer to your question. We tend to view culture/civilization history as a series of innovators, so the rebels and iconoclasts loom large. Most Christians in America have been culture sustainers, not culture innovators. Its a boring role to play, but, like the jobs of farming and teaching, it is absolutely essential.

    Another part of the answer is that Christian contributions have been written out of our cultural history. Why do American college students read Emerson’s essays and not sermons (by Lyman Beecher, say)? The protestant sermon was the great literary form of the U.S. into the 20th century. Why is jazz or the blues given more space than hymns in American music history? Why do all students read that prissy bore Thoreau, and yet are never even told about Orestes Brownson?

    With all this said, the creative deficit of American Christianity is striking, particularly in the twentieth century.

  12. Daybreaker:

    I too find idea based theories of the rise of liberalism/secularism implausible.

    Building on the work of Justin Barrett, Jonathan Haidt, Jennifer Cole Wright and Galen Baril, I have posited that reduced threat levels in our modern societies dampens down both our religious intuitions and the three illiberal moral foundations of loyalty, respect, and purity which seem to go with them. Basically safety and prosperity tend to make people both more secular and more liberal.

  13. Why do American college students read Emerson’s essays and not sermons (by Lyman Beecher, say)?

    Because Emerson really is the better writer.

  14. What about Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson, or Wendell Berry?

    O’Connor, yes.
    Faulkner, not Christian.
    Dickinson, maybe Christian.
    Berry, minor writer.

    • A minor writer… sayeth who? Here we get to why this is much ado about nothing. No one here should be laboring under the delusion that these here United States make up a Christian nation. (I am perfectly agnostic about whether they could ever have been considered such.) So if we’re going to discount minor contributors, and allow popular status to determine who counts as major, how would a Christian get a seat at the table of the elites without compromising his Christianity? If people don’t hate us, we’re doing it wrong.

      • “No one here should be laboring under the delusion that these here United States make up a Christian nation. (I am perfectly agnostic about whether they could ever have been considered such.)”

        Exactly! The United States was founded as a Lockean Republic on Enlightenment principles– the God of America is the “deist clockmaker” Enlightenment God– not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, made known to us men through His incarnate Son.

    • I found an awesome John Adams quote that supports Athanasius’ point very well. Adams said (in 1787), “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature…Thirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery…The experiment is made and has completely succeeded.”

      Whenever I read words such as these, or examine the presuppositions of my high school students (I’m a teacher), I realize that Adams was right; Americans may talk the talk of “God Bless America,” but the “God” to whom we refer is only Thomas Jefferson’s god of nature. As soon as we “orthos” begin to insist that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, and that this Jesus is still telling us to do certain things that are contrary to our sinful nature, then we find that Americans are, at heart, revolutionaries.

      Revolutionaries suck and they make poor neighbors, even when they are very nice people.

  15. @Kristor “It’s because the basic matter of literature, poetry, and drama is the play of novel ideas about how to relate to the world, and how to behave. Thus, the “novel”. Novel ideas are almost always, by definition, heterodox.”

    Yes, and it is only recently – since, probably, the dominance of FR Leavis – that the novel has been taken seriously, and even regarded as the premier literary form. For most of its history, the novel was merely regarded as entertainment.

    Yet even for Leavis there were only 5 really serious novelists (Conrad, Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, DH Lawrence).

    Similarly plays – indeed nearly all plays are mere entertainment, since they do not last their generation – indeed many successful plays only get one professional perfomance.

    In the English dramatic repertoire there are long periods of time with no canonical plays – anand there are never many: in the whole Eighteenth century there are three plays by two playwrights (She stoops to conquer by Goldsmith,and The rivals, and School foir scandal by Sheridan).

    As for poetry – there was a canon with major (Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth) and numerous minor figures – but the canon is now closed.

    Same for classical music – since Richard Strauss there have been no ‘great composers’ in the Western Tradition (not Stravinsky, not Schoenberg only professionals like their ‘major’ work).

    Same for visual arts, many minor but no great figures from the early 20th century – Picasso was not a great painter – he was the killer of the Western artistic tradition, same for the other ‘modernists’.

    Pretty much the whole of the era of 20th century secular art was the death throes of the tradition. The last of the great artists were seldom orthodox Christians (or Jews) but were typically apostates, or theists – and that was part of what made them great but also what made them the last.

    Doktor Faustus by Thomas Mann was the parable of 20th century art.

  16. To be fair, the relative lack of cultural contributions from white, Christian America may at least partly be an effect of the relatively young age of American civilization, and of the fact that there wasn’t much time for art when the frontier was being settled. (This, I admit, doesn’t explain why European Christendom continued to flourish during times of similar hardship.) I think the latter point is especially important, since it created a notion among ordinary Americans, lasting well into the 20th Century, that aesthetic pursuits were effeminate and a waste of time, fit only for women and sissies. (Whether this was also a result of the settlers’ low-church Protestant culture, I can’t say, but it does seem likely.) Even Charles Ives, the first notable American modernist composer, shared this sentiment, and made his living as an insurance salesman, reserving his composing for evenings, weekends, and holidays.

    And while the cultural output of Christian America has certainly been humbler than St. Peter’s Basilica, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, or the Divina Commedia, it has not been non-existent. As far as music is concerned, I would, for a start, mention old hymns like Leaning on the Everlasting Arms and Simple Gifts, the choral works of William Billings, and the tradition of shape-note singing (a style of music that is as distinctly American as jazz). There are also several pre- or early-20th Century American classical composers who have been unjustly forgotten–I would mention Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, and Charles Griffes. I’m sure readers who know more than I do about literature and painting can add some names and keywords from those fields.

    White, Christian America is certainly culturally moribund today, but so is white, Christian Europe. The point is that both have worthy cultural traditions to which they can and should return.

    • …unjustly forgotten…Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, and Charles Griffes

      Maybe you are looking at all of this from the European perspective (where maybe they are never mentioned?), but from my American perspective, these composers are not forgotten. They don’t get as much playtime on the local classical radio station as Elgar, Mendelssohn or Sibelius, but they do get a significant amount, I would say even a disproportionate amount relative to their contribution to the art.

      • Maybe you are looking at all of this from the European perspective (where maybe they are never mentioned?)

        I am, as those composers are, if not never mentioned, then certainly not well-known in Europe. It makes sense that they would be better known in the U.S.

  17. American “culture” is ruling the world because it is technically and psychologically superior. American “culture” was first (besides and after enforcement by naked power) the instrument to establish a society based on consumerism in which everything including religion became a commodity. After pushing through this lifestyle, american “culture” now offers “redemption”. It shows in very touching and sublime but also, if this is more to your liking, very crude ways how it is possible to have a good and satisfied life full of sexual sin in a world without God. When it is not possible anymore to conceal this lie there comes with the horror genre the catharsis of the return of the repressed, whereas sexual sin punished in every imaginable way. American „culture“ is the fruition of what Aldous Huxley in his letter to George Orwell called “the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology. The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.”
    The utterly important roles people like the Marquis de Sade and sexual liberator Wilhelm Reich played in the revaluation of all values should not be underestimated. They have many faithful pupils in what is called “american culture”.

    • “American “culture” is ruling the world”

      Um, no its not. Every culture rules its own world. Hooters didn’t even get off the ground in India – for a reason.

  18. This American “culture” you speak of that has spread a bit through the world is not a culture, but a capitalistic marketing and business model who’s demand is self-perpetuated by the vapid laziness of mind and sickness of emotions it initiates, and that is soothed increasingly less and less by increasingly cheap, unwholesome, and fleeting instant gratifications.

    Also, blacks contributed to our culture by being white people’s slaves. The are a component ever present…everything affects everything.

    • “This American “culture” you speak of that has spread a bit through the world is not a culture, but a capitalistic marketing and business model ”

      I think that was his point. He’s not for it, but against it.

  19. Hi! Thoughtful article.. I’m an indian and due to media and internet, i know a lot of stuff about your country. I love western music (most of which is american), my favorites are avril lavigne(though she is a canadian) and alternative rock band- linkin park… I dunno if you guys have any idea that there’s a lot of americanism in our media- from sitcoms to hollywood…. But all i could notice was that sitcoms were just basically about dating,sex(2 nd a half men) and to some extent drugs( like in that 70s show). Also i have seen on youtube that to certain extent america is ignorant like they cant even point where is canada on the map… One thing that i always wonder is being free is good, but doesnt your media crossing boundries lile death metal rock and slasher movies?
    What do you have to say about it?
    I want to tell you that i really praise USA for being highly developed,but when looking at indian culture,i feel that yeah usa does lack culture…. Although i know i’ll be better equipped with your culture if i step on your soil…
    Think about it- isnt it better if we live our life adopting best traits of every culture( which i do!) ??
    And love your president’s hospitality towards our country..

    – My name is Sahil,a proud indian and punjabi who likes every cultute!

    • “But all i could notice was that sitcoms were just basically about dating,sex (2 nd a half men) and to some extent drugs (like in that 70s show).”

      Yes, and now why is our Bollywood trying to copy and paste this crap onto our Indian culture in its own productions?!

  20. Really!?? You ask how many of the contributors to our nation were Christians?

    I challenge you to research how many of the signers of our constitution were publicly professed Christians! Your eyes will be opened to the truth!

  21. “White America has no culture.”

    I’ve said this a gazillion times (as has my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles) but because I’m not white I get met with accusations of “racist” and because I’m not American I get met with accusations of “anti-American”.
    Understandable. We Indians hurl similar accusations at non-Indians who critique us or our civilization.
    But a good hard look at civilizations and why they are currently in the states they are, good, bad or otherwise, is needed.

    And, I don’t think it is neccessarily a bad thing that White America has no culture. From a blank slate, much can be created.


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