[This is not a typical Orthosphere post. For an introduction to this essay, go here.]
“I didn’t know I was demoralized” you may be thinking. Perhaps you aren’t demoralized, but there’s a good chance that you are. After all, “demoralized” doesn’t mean “immoral.” It means instead that your morale, your spirit, is low.
The question “Why are you demoralized?” could therefore be expanded. “Why are you demoralized? Why are you disaffected, put off, bummed out, bored with all the cynicism and happy talk? Why don’t people ever get real about anything?” We have an answer for these questions.
We cannot, of course, fully explain your demoralization. We don’t know you, and much depends on your unique circumstances. But there is an important part we can explain, because it originates outside you, in the conditions of society. Indeed, we can be so bold as to assert that anyone who pays attention to the signs of the times should be demoralized. Like pain, demoralization can be a signal that something is amiss, and one should pay attention to the signal
So why are you demoralized, and what must you do? Short answer: You are demoralized because they have taken from you the most important goods you need in order to live well. These goods do exist, they belonged to your ancestors (who received them through the Western Civilization of which they were a part) and they are therefore yours by right of birth. You must seek these goods and embrace them when you find them. You must rediscover your lost civilization.
Let us unpack the summary. You are demoralized because, first, the authorities say you must be nonjudgmental. This means (whether they admit it or not) that everything is equally valuable, which means (although they’ll never admit it) that everything is equally worthless.
And therefore—through the demand of nonjudgmentalism (an ugly word for an ugly doctrine)—the authorities of Western Civilization have taken away your sources of morale: God, true religion, objective morality, knowledge of philosophically first things, beauty, higher culture, family, nation, honor, and so on. Because the existence of any of these goods requires one to make a judgment that some things are better than others, these goods are not allowed. Our leaders have therefore taken all these goods from you, and replaced them with the false god of nondiscrimination. Of course, these goods have not been destroyed. They still exist, although some are highly attenuated. The authorities have only denigrated them and hidden them.
And you are demoralized also because you are surrounded by ugliness intellectual, moral and esthetic. These are the ugly bastardizations of the true, the good and the beautiful, the supreme values that man needs. It has been decided that the ugly is to be fashionable, so it has become ubiquitous.
Finally, if you are white, you are demoralized because the authorities teach that your ancestors were often wicked, as they enslaved, conquered, oppressed and dominated. And you and your people, so they say, are still wicked, because our society still has inequality and intolerance. Of course, this is an evil lie, but it is widely taught and believed.
We must acknowledge that many people do not appear to be demoralized. For a tiny minority, this is because they have discovered the wisdom of the ages. But many people are too spiritually insensitive to know they have been demoralized. For them, carrying on the ordinary activities of life and occasionally making use of spiritual platitudes is apparently enough to satisfy.
We must also acknowledge that some people love ugliness, confusion and meaninglessness. How else can we account for the prevalence of these disorders? These lovers-of-ugliness, these aschemiolators (“worshippers of ugliness”) will try to seduce you to join their perversion. Do not join them, for theirs is the way of death.
Why would anyone love the ugly? People of low character like to hear that nothing matters because it allows them to indulge their base desires without being bothered by conscience or (in many cases) the authorities. And they love the promotion of ugliness because it drags the world down to their level. But we presume that you are not of low character
That was the summary. Let us fill in the important details.
Observe how our leaders teach that you must not discriminate, for discrimination, they say, is the greatest evil. Who is decried as the greatest threat to our social order? The racist, i.e., the one who fails to treat all men equally. Why must we have homosexual pseudo-marriage? Because it is said to be wrong to discriminate by saying that a man can only marry a woman. Why can’t we subject Moslem-looking persons to greater scrutiny at airports? Because discrimination is held to be wicked. So say our authorities; the alert reader can easily add many more examples of common sense overridden by the rule of nondiscrimination.
Nowadays, Western man is required to believe—even to love—the following principles (to name only the most important):
Thou shalt not be judgmental. That is, thou shalt not acknowledge the difference between good and bad.
Discrimination is evil. That is, it is evil to acknowledge differences. Therefore we must have (among other things) unlimited immigration even if it causes Balkanization, same-sex pseudo-marriage, and women in battle.
Freedom is the greatest good. That is, we must not limit men by speaking of God, authority, morality, tradition or duty. Therefore traditional authorities must be overthrown.
It is impossible to know if there is a God. That is, it is impossible to know if reality has an order, a creator, or an authority. Therefore man is the only Supreme Being.
Morality is relative and subjective, aside from obvious cases such as murder, rape, or the wickedness of discrimination. That is, you cannot know which actions are better. Therefore we must overthrow traditional morality and change our way of life.
There is no such thing as duty. That is, it makes no difference how you conduct your life, as long as you do not commit the sins that are so gross that even today’s leaders will disapprove of them. Therefore we cannot require people to do right; we can only coerce them.
Because of these imperatives, all of the goods described previously must be denied. God must be denied because He discriminates between the saved and the damned. There can be no true religion, for that would discriminate against members of false religions. Objective morality must be denied because a morality which is true for everyone denies a man’s freedom. There can be no knowledge of philosophically first things because such knowledge discriminates against those who are ignorant of these principles. There must be no acknowledgement of beauty or higher culture, for those who lack it are thereby discriminated against. We must not honor our family or our nation, for these will result in discrimination against foreigners and other outsiders. There can be no standard of personal honor, for those who fail to meet the standards will have their freedom denied. All the goods that a man needs must be denied.
Although anyone who pays attention to the speech of contemporary Western man will observe countless instances of people expressing thoughts like these, one may doubt that these principles have official status. The reader may therefore ask for references that validate the existence of these rules. We acknowledge that these rules are not officially codified in any existing law that we know of. Instead, they capture the essence of how contemporary Western man thinks. Since they are so fundamental, these principles are not articulated in official documents, and therefore they can only be known by paying attention to the way people, especially the authorities, speak and act.
A cynic (or one who wishes to evade the truth) could, of course, identify many apparent exceptions to the rule of nondiscrimination. We still send murderers to jail, and occasionally even execute them. That’s discrimination against evildoers. We still give out merit-based awards such as Nobel Prizes and Most Valuable Player awards. That’s discrimination against the untalented and the lazy. We still allow most organizations to choose whom they will admit into full fellowship, as long as they do not make a public spectacle of discriminating against the important Groups Against Whom Thou Shalt Not Discriminate (chiefly women, non-whites, homosexuals, and Moslems.) That’s discrimination plain and simple.
But these are all “unprincipled exceptions” (in the words of Lawrence Auster) to the rule of nondiscrimination. Since literal, full nondiscrimination makes life unbearable even to a leftist, our leaders permit various exceptions so that our social life can proceed without undue stress. But these exceptions are all unprincipled. There is no officially-endorsed rule that these discriminations are good, or even acceptable. The liberal cop generally looks the other way when these discriminations occur, but he does not approve of them.
And because the liberal does not approve of these exceptions, they are perpetually in danger. The Leftist project will never be finished, because there will always be discrimination. To “discriminate” is to recognize differences, and differences will always exist. That is why for the leftist, change is the only constant. While he is busy with his current crusades the liberal will allow other discriminations to occur. For now.
In summary, you are officially required to treat everyone and everything equally. But if so, then everything must be the same. What other reason could exist for requiring us to treat all things the same? Any appearance of difference must be an illusion, and a wicked one at that. It must have been concocted by a group which wishes to protect its interests at the expense of others. Therefore we have the leftist project to eliminate all differences (strictly speaking, all appearances of difference), by education if possible and by force if necessary.
But if everything is the same then nothing matters. I can only care about X more than Y if X is different from Y. If all objects are the same then they all have the same value. And if they all have the same value then I have no reason to care about any one of them more than the others. And if I have no reason to care more about any one of them then I cannot choose how to act. And if I cannot choose, I am paralyzed.
The liberal has a pseudo-solution to this dilemma of meaninglessness: I create value by my own choice. And if it is really to be my choice then it must not be influenced by anyone else’s claim that one choice is better than another. In particular, it must not be influenced by authority or tradition. Authority and tradition can make suggestions, but they have no right to demand agreement. Ultimately, I am the Supreme Being, and only I can choose what I will believe and how I will live.
One problem, though: This theory still does not give me any reason to believe one thing rather than another or to act one way rather than another. Indeed, it forbids reasons, for any reason will point to an authority outside myself, and make me subject to this outside entity. Ultimately, the liberal theory requires me to make a choice on a purely arbitrary basis: because it feels good to me. But how do I know that what feels good really is good? According to the liberal theory, anything that feels good must ultimately be good by definition, as long as it does not “harm another person” (the liberal’s only apparently objective criterion.) And if almost anything is good, then the good is rendered meaningless once again, and I am paralyzed once again.
Some people are happy to make ego assertion or going along with the crowd the only basis of deciding right from wrong. We assume you are not that kind of person.
[But wait! To “go along with the crowd” is to be influenced by outside forces. It is not allowed. But wait again! Now the liberal authority is telling you how to decide: He is ordering you not to go along with the crowd. OK, he takes it back. He allows you to go along with the crowd, as long as this is your free choice, not made under duress from the crowd. And you are not obeying his order to choose freely, you are freely choosing to choose freely. OK. That’s better.]
So the liberal morality is “choose freely, as long as your choice does not harm another person.” But “harming another person” is not a valid way of making decisions unless you know what it means to “harm” another “person.” Abortion, for example, arguably harms another person, which is why the liberals generally assert that the unborn human being is not a “person.” And if Hell is real, then failing to have faith in Jesus Christ certainly causes harm to people, which is why liberals generally deny the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation.
So under the rule of liberalism there can be no objective definition of “harming another person,” because any objective definition of “harm” and “person” will restrict somebody’s freedom. The liberal rule of morality becomes completely useless, and contemporary liberalism is revealed as fully nihilistic.
And ironically (but logically), this emphasis on individuals choosing freely produces manipulation and propaganda. In traditional societies, people make important choices based largely on deference to the authorities and to received tradition. In American society, where authority has been impeached and tradition is only one option among many, ambitious men have no choice but to use propaganda or force to induce people to make the desired choice. A businessman cannot order you to buy his product (as, metaphorically speaking, a medieval lord could do.) He must manipulate you with propaganda, although the propaganda must be subtle enough that you do not feel manipulated. A government bureaucrat cannot count on your loyalty (unlike the medieval lord, who could generally count on the loyalty of his subjects.) He must use the threat of force to induce you to obey. But the threat must be sufficiently veiled that the people do not become too resentful.
In short, traditional society has the officially-instituted rule that the people owe allegiance to the king or lord. Contemporary Western societies have the opposite rule: the people must be free. Therefore there must be widespread propaganda and coercion, for there is no other way for our leaders to guide our actions.
The liberal attempts to counter the nihilism of his system in two basic ways. One, discussed above, is to assert the allegedly non-nihilistic rule that you must not choose something that will “harm another person.” As we have seen, this rule fails. The other way to try to make liberalism non-nihilistic is to make “fighting discrimination” the meaning of a noble life. In this way, equality and nondiscrimination are elevated into goods that are, in a manner of speaking, worthy of worship. And if they are worthy of worship, then their opposites, “discrimination” and “fundamentalism,” are to be reviled and fought against. “Antidiscrimination” becomes the ultimate good.
This makes sense: A man must order his life by reference to something larger than himself and his society, something that is in some sense absolute. It would, for example, obviously be absurd to say that the ultimate meaning of life is watching football. To say this is to invite the question “Why is watching football good?” and any valid answer must refer to something more valuable than watching football. And when we ask why this more valuable thing is good, we will have to answer by referring to something even more valuable, and so on.
But the process must eventually end. Man cannot live with an unending sequence of goods, for then nothing in the chain of allegedly valuable things has any value. The lesser goods only have real value if the chain terminates in something that is good in and of itself, without reference to anything else.
In the past, until recently, Western man generally believed in the God of the Bible as the supreme good. Below God were other, non-ultimate goods: truth, beauty, (moral) goodness, family, nation, honor, duty, courage, achievement, and so on. To live well was to orient one’s self toward these goods. Those who conspicuously rejected these goods were to be regarded with pity or contempt, for the rejection of the goods that man needs is like a contagious disease: Since man is naturally sinful, he is always tempted to reject what he needs and to try to live like an animal.
There must be some good that is ultimate, or else nothing is good. In traditional Western thought, the ultimate good is God. Like all human beings, the liberal also requires an ultimate good; a god. And the liberal’s god, the object of his worship, is equality.
But if equality is the ultimate good, than opposition to equality, generally called “discrimination” or “judgmentalism” is the ultimate evil. For most liberals, “discrimination” is embodied most concretely in white peoples and their traditional cultures, and it is generated and promoted by “fundamentalism,” i.e., any religion believed by its members actually to be true. In the liberal narrative, European peoples, despite having some noble attributes, have been history’s most notorious discriminators, and Christianity, despite having done some good, has been the institution that has done the most to discriminate.
[In practice, for the liberal, only Christianity can be fundamentalist. The liberal excuses away the sins of other religions, for he sees “fundamentalist” Christianity, i.e., real Christianity, as his ultimate enemy.]
For the liberal, then, the ultimate virtue is to worship equality and consequently to oppose discrimination. In these ways the liberal feels that his system is not nihilistic, but is in fact based on a concrete, knowable, achievable good. The liberal’s religion is “antidiscrimination.”
Under the current Western system, then, you are required to believe that nothing really matters, for to believe otherwise is to be a “bigot” or a “fundamentalist,” and therefore to be a threat to the social order. A “bigot” is a threat because he does not give you the right to be whatever you want, act in any way you want, or believe whatever you want. He does not agree to the public system in which individuals create their own autonomous meaning without any outside interference. He spreads disharmony by disrespecting persons and creating a hateful environment which leads to the shameful acts of violence we observe on the crime report.
If anything really matters, that is, if the goods named above (the goods that man needs in order to live) really exist, then hatred and bigotry will allegedly result. So it must be, under the current system, that nothing really matters. But if nothing matters, then your life, and indeed all of reality, is absurd. And if your life is absurd, then you will not care about anything, other than gaining pleasure and avoiding pain.
But man is not an animal. You cannot live like an animal. Man, being man, must know that goods (i.e., things that are good) do exist so that he can orient himself and the course of his life toward those goods. It does no good to make “equality” the ultimate good, because equality does not have actual existence. It is not a good. When the goods that he needs in order to live well are destroyed (that is, regarded as no longer valid), a man dies spiritually, that is, his spirit is broken.
Ugliness is not just an unpleasant fact of life. Under the current system ugliness is relentlessly promoted, and those who speak out against the promotion and even worship of ugliness are branded troublemakers.
Based on the three transcendent values of truth, goodness and beauty, we can divide ugliness into the intellectual, the moral and the esthetic. Intellectual ugliness is primarily the notion that we cannot know anything for certain, in which case discourse is only an occasion for ego assertion or manipulation. An apparent exception is made for science, at least physical science. But physical science, important thought it be, is the least important form of knowledge. Science at best only tells us non-ultimate truths about what is. Moral, philosophical and religious knowledge are more important, for they tell man what ultimate reality is and how he ought to live. Contemporary man is therefore left hungering for a knowledge he is told does not exist.
Men worship and spread intellectual ugliness mainly because it eases the pain of thinking one might be mistaken. If there is no truth that can be known for certain, then one cannot be held responsible for being mistaken.
Moral ugliness is expressed primarily in the doctrine of moral relativism: the belief that there are no objective moral rules, that is, rules that are valid at all times and for all people. According to this belief, people articulate moral rules mostly to manipulate others or to fortify their egos by telling themselves they are virtuous. As a result, contemporary man is left with no moral guidance except the bare minimum that one should not “harm others.” To the greater questions of how a man ought to live and what constitutes virtue, the authorities permit no answer, for fear of spreading “intolerance.”
Men worship and spread moral ugliness because it eases the pain of thinking that their actions may be immoral. Instead of seeking the true remedy for sin through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, men seek to assure themselves that they have not really sinned.
Esthetic ugliness manifests itself more obviously than the previous forms, in ugly artifacts, ugly works of fine art, and slovenly personal appearance. Widespread esthetic ugliness spreads the subliminal but powerful message that the world, or at least the existing order, is bad. Demoralization is the natural result.
The widespread acceptance and promotion of esthetic ugliness are also important phenomena. Through a personal display of esthetic ugliness a man confesses the disorder in his soul; through the acceptance of this ugliness he gains a measure of comfort by apparently having his confession accepted and absolved; through the promotion of ugliness he gains the feeling of dragging the rest of us down to his level, in which case his disorder is apparently not a disorder at all, but just an innocuous lifestyle choice. For these reasons it is no wonder that many worship ugliness. For the aschemiolator, ugliness is not an unpleasant occasional fact of life. It is a way of life and a god who protects its devotees from the threat of normality.
We must reiterate that many whose spirits have been broken do not know it. Some demoralized persons cover their sickness with ego assertion. These people, in fact, often enjoy the new dispensation wherein anything goes as long as you don’t claim that your beliefs are universally valid or that your actions ought to be emulated by everyone. They can be selfish without incurring a social penalty.
The enthusiasts and activists generally fall into this category: They find meaning in life through fighting for a personally-meaningful cause: environmentalism, sexual liberation, more political power for their tribe, and so on.
But permit us to point out the obvious: Unless the competing egos of society are coordinated by some shared conception of the good, the result is exactly the social disintegration we see all around us. And anarchy always prepares the way for tyranny.
What You Must Do
Now that you know why you are demoralized, what must you do?
Of course, we cannot tell all you must do. We do not know you, and much depends upon your unique circumstances. We can only tell you the most important things.
The first step, of course, is the most important. You must have the insight and the courage to acknowledge that you have been participating in the evil system of the current world, a system that has systematically stripped you of every good that man needs in order to survive.
And then you must repent. To “repent” means to turn from evil, and this can only be done by turning toward the good. You must therefore seek, and find, the goods they have tried to take from you: God, true religion, objective morality, knowledge of philosophically first things, beauty, higher culture, family, nation, honor, and so on. These are the goods that man needs to live. They exist, but they have been taken from you. You must find them.
Thomas Aquinas College, which uses the great-books method of instruction, has used the slogan “Discover a lost civilization: your own.” This expresses an important truth: The goods that you need belonged to your ancestors. They received these goods by participating in the Western Civilization of which they were a part. These goods are therefore yours, too, by right of birth. Seek them, and embrace them when you find them.
Where can these goods be found? There is no simple answer to this question, but some general comments are in order.
Since God is the ultimate reality, as well as the ultimate determiner of non-ultimate reality, religion is the most important spiritual and intellectual discipline. And since the only God who exists is the God of the Bible, Christianity is the true religion. It is the belief of the author that God and Christianity can best be found in a confessional Protestant church, for these churches teach the things of God most accurately. [The author belongs to a conservative group that includes Catholics and Orthodox, who would obviously disagree.] A “confession” or a “creed” is a detailed statement of what Christianity is and why it is true, and a church that does not officially subscribe to any creed or confession is confessing that they do not think a Christian needs to know very much about his religion. And if a Christian only knows a few clichés about his religion then he is in danger of capitulating to the evil spirit of the age.
A confessional Protestant church is one that officially subscribes to one or more of the Creeds or Confessions of the Reformation, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Heidelberg Catechism. Avoid non-confessional churches, for they usually teach the latest fads rather than the enduring Word of God found in the Bible. They may give lip service to the traditional teachings of the Bible, but if a church is not officially committed to the ancient faith, you can be sure they will eventually fall for the latest nonsense.
[Good non-confessional churches do exist. They do not officially subscribe to a formal confession, but their leaders do adhere to some sort of detailed statement of Christian doctrine. But for the purposes of giving reasonably brief advice, we advise you to look first for a confessional church.]
[Update 12/6/2020] You can no longer rely on a confessional church to reject heresy and liberalism; the left is infiltrating and converging the larger of the formerly-conservative confessional Protestant denominations. You must look at individual congregations: Find a congregation which makes as its highest priorities fidelity to the Bible as the infallible Word of God, and expository preaching. An expository sermon teaches a section of Scripture and then exhorts you to believe and obey God as He has spoken through these words.
We also need creeds and confessions because, although the Bible is the Word of God and therefore the highest earthly authority, men disagree about what it means. A good creed or confession accurately summarizes what the Bible really teaches, as clarified over the centuries by learned and Godly men.
What about other goods such as objective morality, knowledge of philosophically first things, beauty, higher culture, family, nation and honor? It is a general rule that in order to get something valuable you must find the people who have it and spend time with them. If the good you seek is knowledge, then the people who have it could be authors—long dead—of classical literature, or teachers, or clergy, even editors of blogs. Look for the people who seem to know, study their teachings, put them to the test, and hold fast to the good.
If the good you seek is not knowledge—higher culture, nation, family or honor, for example—then you must seek it in people rather than through them. Realize that you have been taught—falsely and wickedly—to hate these goods. Acknowledge your false patterns of thought and oppose them with the recognition that these goods are good. Understand that you are connected in body and soul to your people and their (your) civilization, and that one ought to love one’s own. Acknowledge that through history, until the great liberal jihad began to succeed in the second half of the Twentieth Century, all men everywhere have always loved their own, as they love themselves. Join them, and claim your birthright.
Who can help you rediscover your lost civilization? We can help, although you must do the hard work. It is time for us to identify ourselves. We are commonly called “traditionalist conservatives” because we seek to honor the traditions of our people. We are also called “the far right” because ordinary conservatives have too much in common with the left to fight it effectively. And sometimes we call ourselves “reactionaries” or “counterrevolutionaries” because we oppose the leftist revolution that has rolled over Western Civilization starting shortly after World War II. We have become, by default, something like the keepers of the goods man needs in order to live well. We say “by default” because those traditionally charged with guarding the wisdom of a civilization (chiefly its clergy, teachers, and government officials) have dropped the ball, so to speak, or even deliberately thrown it away. Someone must point to these goods, and the task has evidently fallen to us.
[All that glitters is not gold. Some who bear the name of conservative are actually bearers of toxic ideas. Since the current effective definition of “conservative” is “anyone or anything the left doesn’t like,” and since the left is in charge of Western societies, this is only to be expected. Let the buyer beware.]
As of this writing, there does not exist a reasonably compact introduction to “traditionalist conservatism,” that is, the wisdom of the ages and a true description of the goods that man needs to live well. The necessary knowledge is scattered. But the way of traditionalist conservatism is embodied most accessibly in a group of related weblogs, the best of which are (in the author’s opinion): View from the Right, The Orthosphere, The Thinking Housewife, Oz Conservative, What’s Wrong With the World, Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany, and Turnabout (which is more than a blog; its blog is here.). At a good blog the editors and contributors speak of passing topics, as well as the permanent things, from the standpoint of a proper worldview and way of life. In this way the sympathetic reader may begin to reorient his thinking toward the true, the good and the beautiful.
For a more focused introduction to traditionalist thinking, see View from the Right, on the right sidebar of the main page, the section titled “Key VFR Articles” and, at Turnabout, on the main page, the sections titled “What is the current situation, and how did we end up here?” and “What are the possible sources of renewed order?”
Remember, the goods you need in order to live do exist. They can be found. Seek them.
 I am indebted to Professor Thomas Bertonneau for this (I think) neologism.