Liberalism is essentially the elevation of the self to a position of pre-eminence in the overall scheme of things, and a concomitant, implicit rejection of any transcendent factors of being that might constrain it. So it is autolatry – a type of idolatry. It is a basic, lethal error about reality, which (whether or not there be a God) as a whole ever overwhelms the puny human self.
Liberalism errs about the order of being, and so disagrees with the world. It’s poor policy to argue with the universe, no? Yet that is just what liberalism does, and not just in the economic realm. Liberalism is at war with life itself, at every level; for it carries its profound philosophical errors into concrete practice. It implements its misprisions. As I have elsewhere said, the liberal is engaged in a death struggle with his own body.
But this is just a description of sin, no? It is the sin of pride, as at Babel; of man presuming to dictate to nature, and to nature’s God, rather than taking his proper place therein, and thereunder, so as to prosper and flourish. Sin *just is* such presumption (cf. Psalm 19:13). Not to say that all sins are types of liberalism, but that liberalism is a type of sin.
And sin enslaves the sinner.
It perverts his understanding, so that his intellect is diseased; and to the extent that his mind is disordered, so much is he rendered insane – literally, “unclean.” Insanity is uncleanness because messing up the mind introduces noise to a system that processes information, increasing its output of error and waste. And because by far the greatest part of the inputs to the mind consists of outputs from its own prior iterations, a tiny jot of aboriginal sin can over a lifetime compound through a vicious cycle of positive feedback until it consumes the whole person. It’s just like throwing dirt into a machine. Once the dirt has been introduced to the system, all its operations are messed up, and those messes can mess it up even more (as the heat of friction in a dirty engine can distort surfaces, increasing friction), until it is taken out of service for maintenance and cleaning.
And the machine is helpless to clean itself. If it is to be cleaned, it must cease normal operations, be turned off, and cleaned – by its operator. This is true even for automatic systems like man. It is true a fortiori for autonomic systems like the mind. If your very nomology is messed up, you may not even be able to force a reboot (by, say, checking yourself into a mental hospital or going to confession), because your messed up nomology may not be able to generate an accurate, effectual indication that you are messed up, and need rebooting. Or – a situation familiar to all of us, I wager – it may provide a perfectly accurate but wholly ineffectual indication that something is wrong. The sinner may perfectly well understand that he sins, and desperately wish that he did not, yet find himself unable to stop sinning. Such is the temptation we ask our Father to prevent. “Lead us not into temptation” is, after all, just a different way of saying with the Psalmist, “Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me.”
Sin is an obsession – literally, a siege. As the siege conquers the soul and gains dominion over the psychic economy, sin becomes an addiction – the peccant part dictates to the rest of the soul.
This is all perfectly clear to Alcoholics Anonymous. The first step of their twelve step program is an admission that the addict is himself powerless to resist his addiction. All twelve step programs consider the root of addiction to be the spiritual disease of self-worship. The second step is the recognition that the self supervenes upon a transcendent beneficent Power, and the third consists in an abandonment of the will to that Power. Twelve step programs help, support and inform the addict through the process of repentance. The fourth step is an unflinching moral inventory; the fifth, a detailed review of that inventory with a sponsor – a fellow addict who is further along in the process of repentance.
Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on twelve step programs notices that the greater part of the benefit of the magisterial, quasi-priestly relation of the sponsor to his pupil redounds to the pedagogue. Preaching what you practice apparently reinforces that praxis. It is the evangelist who is most affected by the gospel.
From Wikipedia, here are the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:
- Admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Twelve step programs have been developed for all sorts of addictions. As any serious Christian must recognize, the twelve steps are a formalization of the process of spiritual formation we ought all to undertake before our ordination to the Royal Priesthood of Melchizedek – er, that is, before we are anointed Kings and Queens in Heaven – I mean, before we are admitted to full fellowship in the Church through the sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation. It’s not a singular process, of course; coping with the permanent deformation of the soul by sin requires a permanent compensating response thereto. The addict may never relax his guard; he must keep his wick trimmed, must stay awake, must watch always for his Master. So there are really thirteen steps, the last one being “Go to Step 1.” Like serious Christians, members of AA attend weekly meetings for the rest of their lives, and practice their repentance by reiteration. Thus the process of ritual cleansing that takes place in steps one through seven is recapitulated in the first half of every Mass.
What I am proposing here is that the honest and thoroughgoing practice of orthodox Christianity constitutes a sort of twelve step program for the sinner of repentance and recovery from sin.
Back to liberalism, then. As the worship of the untrammelled will, and therefore a form of autolatry, it is a type of sin. So, it ought not to be too difficult to figure out a version of the twelve steps that would be pertinent to liberalism. I leave that project to such of you as find it interesting to follow through.
While it is interesting to speculate about that, and to wonder whether we ought not all without further ado to see about joining some twelve step program or other, the question I am having trouble wrapping my head around is this: is something like the process of repentance formalized in the twelve steps possible to a whole society? It seems an apposite question, for if ever a society has been utterly besotted with sin, entirely addicted to the constant stroking of the self, it is ours.
The twelve step programs have their best success with addicts who have “hit bottom” – whose lives have definitively and completely collapsed on account of their addiction. These are the men and women who have no alternative but to confront what has happened to them – to admit what they have done – and who, having lost everything, cannot but see that their own self-management has been a disaster. They are like the Prodigal Son, who awakens at last from his stupor and sees that he is living in a sty, and eating pig swill, when he might as well return to his father’s house. Such as these are able to take the first step with a whole heart – a wholly broken and contrite heart.
In a way, then, the more successful a man in the outward prosecution of life, the greater his spiritual danger. He that is down need fear no fall; not so for Icarus. So likewise for a people.
Liberal culture is clearly not yet ready for step one. It doesn’t even know there is a problem yet. The West is still incredibly prosperous, and insulated from the pain of failure. Further, its nomology is so totally whacked, it cannot generate an accurate and effectual indication that it is in trouble. The West doesn’t even recognize lethal danger looking it right in the face; so confused are we, that we help our most bitter enemies (viz., our institutional support for al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria).
For the West to hit bottom, we would have to suffer a horribly devastating blow, such as befell Germany and Japan in WWII. I can’t see it happening any time soon. Indeed, as a patriot I cannot but hope and pray that it never happens. But the longer our repentance is delayed, the more certain and total our eventual catastrophe.
Can small chapters of Liberals Anonymous – parishes, as it were, in Alan Roebuck’s Church of Conservatism – awaken society at large, as yeast in bread? Can we be salt? Can we evangelize so effectually, that the Emperor’s nakedness is revealed to our fellows before the complete apocalypse is upon us?