Equality, Catholicism, and Artistic Counterrevolution

Not all at once, however:

  • I have a piece at Catholic World Report on equality and Catholicism. It points out that the progressive understanding of equality is at odds with Catholicism, good sense, good order, human well-being, and what not else, because it demands the abolition of all significant social institutions other than global markets and expert bureaucracies. I don’t recall seeing that argument in a somewhat mainstream setting, but events are raising Catholic consciousness so perhaps the time is ripe.
  • My friend Nikos Salingaros, together with Mark Signorelli, have published an essay (The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism) that develops and adds to some thoughts he and I kicked around in an interview and a short essay we did together last year. The basic argument is that artistic modernism is antihuman, tyrannical, and nihilistic in its essence, and must be overthrown.

18 thoughts on “Equality, Catholicism, and Artistic Counterrevolution

  1. Equal and equality are just not Biblical words or concepts – always there is a hierarchy and talk of difference, even when differences may seem to be inverted compared with worldly values (easier to get to heaven for poor than rich, last will come first, cares *more* for the single lost sheep than the ninety and nine who were not lost etc).

    In general, it seems, the easier things are on earth, the harder is salvation; the greater the worldly success before death, the less heavenly success after death.

    Therefore, since there is no possibility of restoring nuance or subtelty to the modern usage of equal/ equality; then we should dispense altogether with the word in Christian usage – just get rid of it – and clarify that, as a first approximation, Christianity has *nothing* to do with equality.

    • I don’t know if this gets cleared up in the comments below but the word “equality” is in the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians I believe when Paul encourages the Corinthian Church to give to the poor Christians (in Jerusalem I believe ??). Paul says there will be equality. I’ll try to find the reference.

  2. Some comments:

    1. Different people need different things. Some need clean breaks and dramatic transformations. Others need to go step by step and retain what was valid in their old views.

    2. If I accept hierarchy and the Catechism says “unjust discrimination is bad” I’m not going to say “they don’t know what they’re talking about, we should just ignore it.”

    3. Equality is not altogether alien to Christianity. All you are brothers; love your neighbor as yourself; he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust; there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

  3. @Jim – but unjust discrimination is orthogonal to equality, brothers are not equal and neither are neighbours, the sun rises on ants and elephants and leaves and stones which are not equal, the fact that any race can be a Christian has nothing to do with their equality – the idea would have been alien to Christians (and everybody else) for most of its history, male and female certainly are never said to be equal, and all to be one in a ‘family’ (in Christ) is not to be equal.

    It is – I suggest – a modern error/ deception to imagine that any of this has anything to do with equality.

  4. I’m not sure what the point at issue is. I agree that none of this has anything at all to do with equality in the comprehensive procedural and substantive sense in which it’s understood in 2012.

    On the other hand, discrimination is different treatment, so mentioning unjust discrimination means different treatment is sometimes unjust. Ants and elephants are equal recipients of the sun and rain, along with the just and unjust. Acting with that equality is part of perfection, or so it says a couple verses later. “You be not called Rabbi: for one is your Teacher, even Christ; and all you are brothers” suggests that in some important respect believers are on an equal footing. Ditto for saying there is no Greek and Jew for you are one in Christ.

    Maybe the last example brings the two sides of the situation together. Paul says that in Christ there is no race, class, or gender. That can’t possibly mean that there’s something specially questionable about r., c., and g. as distinctions. Quite the contrary. He wants to say that Christ is the supreme principle that outranks all other principles, and a forcible way of saying so is to say that unity in Christ is more basic than any human distinction no matter how enduring and legitimate. That puts an illiterate Hmong tinsmith on an equal footing in a very important respect with the Queen of England. It doesn’t mean that all social distinctions between the two are a moral horror that must be eradicated. Nor does it mean that it’s OK to distinguish the editor in chief of the Guardian from the cleaning lady but not OK to distinguish a man from a woman.

  5. @jim – Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

    I’m simply saying that we need quite simply to refute, deny, mock the idea that Christianity is in any substantive sense about equality.

    Yet people seem to have the idea that Christianity is the root of the egalitarian imperative and/or that equality is at the root of the Christian message – ignoring that for more than three quarters of the history of Christianity equality was an idea so absurd as to be incomprehensible.

    The depth of misunderstanding on the matter of equality is impenetrable – even the idealistic New England Yankee officers who fought and died for the abolition of slavery did not believe in equality.

    Even the most extreme socialists of the early twentieth century – such as George Bernard Shaw – did not believe equality existed naturally; although he did believe it ought to be imposed.

    In fact, I think the idea that people were equal and that therefore unequal outcomes are due to discrimination is a delusion only about half a century old – before then it would have been a view held by a tiny minority of semi-crazed intellectual.

    So – in sum! – I am saying that what is needed is a plain and no-holds-barred rejection of equality as any kind of good at all – a labeling of equality as a bad thing, tending to evil etc. No nuance, no conceding of ground.

    This is the way it has to be in public discourse (and probably is in reality) – equality is good or bad, and democracy good or bad – and so on. We can’t say anything about equality being good in moderation, having good intentions, a good idea that doesn’t work in practice – or anything of that sort.

    We can’t even make (what seem to most people) subtle distinctions about equal in the sight of God but not equal… etc – we should not try to use equality in a positive sense.

    We have to take sides!

  6. The problem with the present outlook is that it puts effectiveness over truth, which it doesn’t really believe in anyway since it assimilates it to prediction and control and thus to effectiveness. I don’t think we’re going to do better by putting together a more effective counter-stroke based on hard-hitting propaganda that recognizes the nature of current public discourse etc.

    Christianity is at odds with contemporary egalitarianism, but it’s also at odds with radically anti-egalitarian movements. If someone says “we can just sacrifice those people to this goal because those people don’t much matter” that’s not Christian. It seems to me it’s better to fight heresy with a full statement of the truth rather than a tailored version that leaves things out that the other side could use to score verbal points or otherwise make the discussion more complicated.

    Or very likely I still don’t understand you.

    • @Jim – “If someone says “we can just sacrifice those people to this goal because those people don’t much matter” that’s not Christian. ”

      Of course it is not Christian, but neither is it egalitarian. Suppose you were talking about young, dependent children – children are not “equal” to adults – but obviously (to a Christian) they ought not be sacrificed to worldly goals.

      It just has nothing to do with equality – as a word (and thus as a concept) equality does no useful work, and causes a vast amount of harm, both directly and by inducing confusion – as we have perhaps illustrated here…

  7. The essay on artistic Modernism is interesting. I generally agree with it, but I’m not sure that we should immediately condemn “High Modernist” poetry. Aside from the fact that many of these poets–Pound, Eliot, Jones, Hill–have cultural and political views similar to those of this website’s audience, I think the theory underlying the works of these poets is a healthy counterbalance to the cult of individuality we see in the West. The emphasis on the importance of tradition and the move away from understanding poetry as being merely about self-expression, the more public and “objective” understanding of poetry, both seem like positive developments. I understand why many conservatives reject these poets, but I do think that we have to be aware of the danger of antiquarianism here.

  8. Jim, ye oughta come awn down South heah fuh a spell, sit awn the portch in the auld rockin’ chair, sippin’ iced tea with lemon, a mint julep mebbe, and then when ye heah some damnyankee talkin’ ’bout ee-quality you git on up, go in an’ get the shotgun, open the screen door an’ say, “We don’ like yer meddlin’ kind aroun’ heah. Now, if yu’d be so kind, I’d appreciate if you got off ma land.”

  9. The Christian arguments are the most powerful world has even seen. In fact, whatever vitality Islam possesses, really derives from Christianity of which it was a heresy.

    Thus we must be careful in not confounding political, biological and spiritual notions of equality.

    Christianity declares spiritual equality. You do not fully appreciate it since you have no experience otherwise. But Hinduism explicitly has spiritual hierarchy with Brahmins on top and untouchables on bottom.

    The 18C revolutions declared political equality but maintained distinction between a citizen and a non-citizen. But the modern libertarianism, which is the logical climax of liberalism, seeks to erase this distinction thereby denying the political nature of man.

    This mystical doctrine, that declares man to be a political animal implies that man views the Law through national lens. A particular Nation embodies the Law in a particular approximate way.

    For Dante, the Empire was as necessary as the Church. The Church was to guide man in his path and the Empire to curb him if he strayed.

  10. I think the liberal concepts of liberty, fraternity and equality are derived from Christianity but are perversions of it. The Christian concept of liberty is freedom from sin/from being under the law. The Christian concept of fraternity is spiritual brotherhood not one-world-ism. The Christian concept of equality is that God is not a respecter of persons.

  11. Gee, a piece trashing modernism. How relevant.

    Perhaps you people don’t pay attention, but the world of high art and architecture already noticed modernism had expired, like maybe 30 years ago which is an eternity for these people. Anyway, postmodernism, which you probably have heard of, was trying to be the next step after the failures of modernism, and by now they have probably gone on to something else. The point is, objecting to modernism was tired 50 years ago and by now just seems quaint, akin to complaining about horseless carriages and electricity.

    • But postmodernism is just the next stage of modernism; and whatever comes after that is just the next stage of the same process. Postmodernism begins when people realize that the modernist promise of a rational and just world based on human reason and goodness (rather than on God) cannot be achieved and, with God out of the picture, they react with pessimism and despair. For these reasons, modernism is the root of the contemporary world, and is therefore still a worthwhile target. And it is also true that modernism in the strict sense is still with us, for example, in contemporary scientism, with its boastful belief that it can discover all truths worth knowing.

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