The Rectification of Grammar

The Rectification of Names is obviously important, if our talk is to be pertinent to reality, ergo effectual. But prior to the rectification of terms is the rectification of the grammar we use to treat of them. If we can’t agree on the right *way* to talk, we shall certainly find it impossible to agree on the right things to talk *about.*

Too often on sites putatively dedicated to the restoration of the West, or of Tradition, or to Reaction (toward tradition) have I seen writers err grammatically, at the most basic level; even that of the agreement as to number of subject and verb. It makes them look like fools.

Grammar more even than diction – than, i.e., the names we mostly have for this or that – is the basic tradition, and the basis of all other tradition. Grammar is the tradition of tradition. When grammar goes, you can bet that everything else has gone, too. For, grammar is the basis of linguistic communication. If you can’t get your grammar straight, you can’t get straight.

If you can’t or don’t care to get your grammar straight, you are not a reactionary or a traditionalist. Whatever you might say, or want to believe, you are a liberal, and a nominalist. It doesn’t matter how based or real or woke your thoughts may be. If they can’t be expressed grammatically, they can’t be of the Right. They cannot therefore be quite right.

So, express yourself grammatically.

109 thoughts on “The Rectification of Grammar

  1. Pingback: The Rectification of Grammar | Reaction Times

  2. Grammar furnishes, among other things, the foundation of style, and therefore also grammar furnishes the foundation of eloquence, or of beauty in expression. Moreover, grammar furnishes the foundation of transcendence in expression, as in all great prose and verse. Finally, grammar offers itself as the analogue of all behavioral formality and of all institutions, not least the institution of exchange, so that their perfection might be measured against its. Consider economics. The exchange of words precedes the exchange of things, which takes its model in the exchange of words. Where the notion of grammar has withered, and the exchange of words lacks the beauty that is rigor, the exchange of things can only go awry, and tempers flare, and a simmering bitterness, because everyone believes that he has been cheated, pervade the community.

    Heraclitus on the Logos: “Though this Word is true evermore, yet men are as unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time as before they have heard it at all. For, though, all things come to pass in accordance with this Word, men seem as if they had no experience of them, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I set forth, dividing each thing according to its nature and showing how it truly is. But other men know not what they are doing when awake, even as they forget what they do in sleep.”

  3. We should all aspire to correct grammar, and I’ll agree that a man who is absolute indifferent to grammatical correctness is morally suspect, but I wouldn’t read a man out of the movement for bungling number and tense. The grammar he was taught in schools was very sketchy, the tripe in his entertainment trough is uniformly vulgar, the culture by which he is surrounded exudes demotic hatred of learning, and as a model of eloquence he is given the likes of Barak Obama. He speaks a mangled language, and I say it is enough that he perceives and resents its mangled state.

    • JM: It is possible that Kristor’s declaration is a bit too sweeping, but I would like to suggest a defense of it. You write that the badly educated man (badly educated through no fault of his own) indeed “speaks a mangled language,” and you add that, “it is enough that he perceives and resents its mangled state.” I stipulate the first part of the statement, but I remain unsure whether I can fully stipulate the second part. How so? Let me refer back to the case of my undergraduates. It is splendidly easy for me to detect plagiarism. To the extent that the grammar is rigorous, the vocabulary on an adult level, and the syntax based on hypotaxis rather than on parataxis, my suspicion is immediately aroused. I enter a sample sentence or two into one of the search engines and – voila, the crime is solved! The perpetrators, when confronted, are invariably more shocked to have been discovered than they are remorseful over having authored (so to speak) the malfeasance. What explains their shock? They expected never to be discovered. Why did they expect never to be discovered? Having no notion of grammar, all prose looks the same to them. They think that lifted prose resembles their prose generically. They think that no reader familiar with their actual prose, in the abyss of its defect, will detect any difference between that prose and the prose that they lift. That is to say — their perception is as mangled as their grammar. I believe that the principle is extrapolatable. But I only rehearse an argument that has been made many times by such as Heraclitus, Plato, Emerson, Heidegger, and every significant poet. The horizon of language is, in every case, the horizon of the world. Likewise, the clarity of language is, in every case, the clarity of the world view.

      • They think that lifted prose resembles their prose generically. They think that no reader familiar with their actual prose, in the abyss of its defect, will detect any difference between that prose and the prose that they lift. That is to say — their perception is as mangled as their grammar.

        Well, yes, but that is all at least partially (perhaps even mostly) explainable by the fact of their youth and inexperience, is it not?

        The experience you’re providing in outing them is invaluable; something one hopes will serve them well in the future. For all of our sakes.

      • I tell students that, to a sensitive reader, hitting a patch of plagiarized text is like hitting the blacktop after many miles of a rutted gravel road.

      • I tell students that, to a sensitive reader, hitting a patch of plagiarized text is like hitting the blacktop after many miles of a rutted gravel road.

        Ah. So you’ve traveled the Alcan Hwy. too! 😉

      • There might have been lots and lots of people who would have cared about this issue, but the Somme, Passchendaele, and Verdun took care of that!

    • He speaks a mangled language, and I say it is enough that he perceives and resents its mangled state.

      I agree, … as long as his resentment for the mangled state of his language results in his working on himself to improve and correct it. Which of course it should if indeed his resentment is genuine.

    • JM: It was not the occasional honest mistake that I thought revealed a man’s fundamental rejection of tradition, but rather, and precisely, his absolute indifference to grammatical correctness.

      It’s like the difference between a repentant and an unrepentant sinner. The latter is in a far worse moral case than the former.

  4. When one makes these arguments, one encounters “descriptivists” in the most unexpected settings. I was remarking (joking?) to a group of students about a conversation I had overheard that day as I walked across the quad. It was alumni day, and I overheard one woman–obviously an alumna–remark to another: “Yeah, me and her took that class together.” You know, me took that class and her took that class. I thought, “Oh, give I a break!” One of my student interlocutors, an English major, reminded me sniffily that such usage is common now, and that it is better to “describe” such usage (e.g., subject forms of pronouns when used alone, but object forms when occurring together with others) than to react to it proscriptively, which is quite passé among linguists now. And again, I was reminded that language changes, after all. (Well, gee, who knew that?), and that it’s better just to accept the change and go with the flow. I shuddered to think of this English major eventually teaching composition in some high school somewhere. He was only parroting what he had heard in a class of his. Of course languages change. But they can change for the better, or for the worse. In periods of cultural decline (and even the most brazen on the cultural left must admit that such periods have existed), rhetoric and expression decline in tandem. Are such usages as “me and her took …” indicative of mere progressive loss of case consciousness in our language, since the tendency away from case consciousness appears to have been going on since our move from Anglo-Saxon? Or is it indicative of laziness, sloppiness, and a casual indifference to the quality of one’s expression? The answer to this question is not as obvious as my smug English major thinks, and he of all people ought to engage the question seriously.

    • Of course languages change. But they can change for the better, or for the worse.

      They must change for the better only rarely. Language change is the process by which we become deaf to our ancestors’ own voices.

  5. Sirs, have either of you gentlemen ever been accused of being a “grammar Nazi?”

    The near total lack of standards, and absolute indifference to correctness, grammatical or otherwise, apparent in certain individuals seems to be a fairly reliable indicator of their hyper-sensitivity to “Nazism” of various types.

    I was informed awhile back (in another forum) that the picture in my profile (specifically the jacket and tie) make me look like a Nazi. Well I’ll be dipped; I would have thought otherwise. Silly me!

  6. Kristor has hit on a major reason why I don’t often post here anymore. It’s good to have these standards even though some of us cannot attain them.

    I do not agree that my bad grammar makes me a liberal or a nominalist. Each of us is born frightfully confused and ignorant, and each has only a short time on Earth. Ideally, we would banish all confusion and inelegance from our souls, but given limited time and mental resources, we must pick priorities. Probably it is best that we don’t all pick the same ones.

    • Bonald, your grammar is not bad. On the contrary, as with almost everyone who writes here (commenters included), it’s pretty close to perfect. That you worry that it might be bad indicates that you do not fall into the category of ostensibly reactionary or traditionalist writers *who don’t care* about proper grammar (those being the sort that I characterized as nominalists and liberals at bottom).

      For what it’s worth, the idea of the post grew from a niggle of irritation at execrable grammar encountered at an ostensibly conservative site that was not the Orthosphere. Nor was it Throne & Altar. I don’t now remember what it was.

      Anyone who read the post and felt a jot of worry that I might have been talking about their grammar is ipso facto *not a nominalist or a liberal,* and I was *not* talking about their grammar.

      • “Anyone who read the post and felt a jot of worry that I might have been talking about HIS grammar…and I was *not* talking about HIS grammar.”

        Pronoun and antecedent must agree.

        Talk about erring grammatically at the most basic level

        Sieg heil.

      • Touché! And: rats! I can’t believe I missed that one. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It’s like Saint Paul says: no one is righteous, no not one.

      • Oh, my grammar is appalling, no question about it. I still remember how I gave the Orthosphere its first, entirely negative publicity, when Lawrence Auster wrote a post about this awful new website that claims to be traditionalist but had a split infinitive in the title of a post, or some other like offense. I like split infinitives, by the way. Produces a nice clunky effect and amuses me, at least.

        I’m torn on the main point of this article. On the one hand, I’m no fan of the hostility toward clarity that’s spreading from the highest levels in my Church. I’m tempted to counter that theology should model itself on mathematics: clear, precise, no sentimentality. Clear and precise grammar is a more realistic goal. On the other hand, I’ve been pointing out to fellow Rightists that, given Leftist propaganda in the schools and professions, we can’t expect to have the best human material, at least academically speaking, and we’ve got to fight with the army we’ve got. We’ve got to be able to make do with C students. Perhaps a viable compromise position is that people can serve the cause in writing without being polished prose artists, but this is something we should put a little work into. At the very least, it will make a writer more effective, and perhaps it will help him think more clearly as well. Maybe suggest a resource to help us remedy our deficiencies.

      • Bonald, if I had a nickel for every time Lawrence reamed me out for my rhetorical deficiencies, I’d have … well, I’d have about five bucks. If I had a nickel for every time he did it in public, it would be, I don’t know, maybe a buck fifty. Perhaps I exaggerate. The criticisms had a heavy impact. Not that I learned too much from them.

      • It is interesting that you mention Auster in this connection. I remember his prose as polished by internet standards, but also as somewhat stiff and lifeless. This was common to a lot of paleocon writers (e.g. Kirk). They were aiming for something Augustan and came off as a bit priggish and pompous (like Waugh when he became a parody of himself).

        And it doesn’t surprise me that Auster “reamed” Kristor or presumed to play schoolmarm with the infant Orthosphere, since his writing was so often tainted by egotism. The first order of business with Auster was to establish the precedence of Auster.

        I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, and Auster was an important figure who said important things well, but it is wrong to shame an honest man over the deficiencies of his prose. It is really just a way of saying “shut up and go away.” Well, we’ve seen how effective the stately prose of the neocons was!

        Our purpose is to spread ideas, not earn gold stars from the ghost of Lawrence Auster. And one spreads ideas with a rhetoric that speaks to a particular audience, as Plato taught us in the Phaedrus (to end on a pompous note).

      • Just remember that tastes differ, so the prose that wows one reader will flop with another. Personally, I like your style, which is clear and direct, with no showy gewgaws or flimflam. That you describe a point of theology in much the same way as you describe of point of physics is, I think, a great strength, at least for readers allergic to hints of mumbo jumbo. Of course there are other readers who doubt you are talking about religion if there aren’t plenty of hints of mumbo jumbo, but they are not your readers.

      • Bonald:

        We’ve got to be able to make do with C students.

        When I was in junior high and high school, I was interested in the lessons my teachers were trying to teach me only inasmuch as they would help me to achieve two primary goals: (1) maintain eligibility to play and compete in school sponsored sports, and (2) stay on my father’s good side.

        To achieve those goals (academically speaking) I merely had to maintain a C average in all of my classes. Which wasn’t at all difficult, so I never really put much effort into my studies. I regret that now, and I regret as well that I made the job of my teachers more difficult by virtue of my overall indifference to their lessons.

      • I should come to the defense of Mr. Auster. Although he “reamed” me a few times for deficiencies in my prose (not that I didn’t have it coming … every. single. time.), I would estimate that upwards of 90% of his criticisms of my writing were both given in private, and constructive. I was always appreciative of Auster’s willingness to take the time to set me straight.

      • Second. All my best teachers reamed me out. Auster’s reaming was irascible but always constructive – and, at bottom, friendly. He never shamed me. On the contrary, he always made it clear that he took the time to criticize my prose because he found what I had to say with it was valuable. So I rather felt honored by his criticism than shamed.

      • The mistake is not grammatical, but the word “reaming” should never appear in the same sentence as the phrase “at bottom.”

      • JMSmith,

        It is interesting that you mention Auster in this connection. I remember his prose as polished by internet standards, but also as somewhat stiff and lifeless. This was common to a lot of paleocon writers (e.g. Kirk). They were aiming for something Augustan and came off as a bit priggish and pompous (like Waugh when he became a parody of himself).

        Huh. It’s interesting how different people can have very different impressions of someone’s writing. I found Auster’s writing lively and succinct and clear. As far as prose style goes, I found his the most enjoyable of the major online traditionalist writers’. I never found his writing pompous.

        You have a very enjoyable prose style yourself.

        And it doesn’t surprise me that Auster “reamed” Kristor or presumed to play schoolmarm with the infant Orthosphere, since his writing was so often tainted by egotism. The first order of business with Auster was to establish the precedence of Auster.

        No, this isn’t true. Auster was just honest, but was an eccentric individual who didn’t have the inhibitions that a normal person has. He insisted on upholding standards: not just moral standards, but standards of dress, writing, etc. I appreciated that, and I appreciated that he was willing to criticize people frankly (nowadays, men won’t even criticize their close friends to their faces). It’s hardly likely that a society will uphold traditional standards of morality if it doesn’t insist on standards in any other area of life. These things are all connected.

        I remember the criticism of the Orthosphere that Bonald is referring to. It was a minor, secondary point he was making: he didn’t make a big deal of it.

        I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, and Auster was an important figure who said important things well, but it is wrong to shame an honest man over the deficiencies of his prose. It is really just a way of saying “shut up and go away.” Well, we’ve seen how effective the stately prose of the neocons was!

        Why? I always appreciate it when someone points out errors in my grammar. It means I can improve my writing. (I wouldn’t mind if Roger G. took a look at my post and pointed out any errors).

      • Ian @ Thanks for the encouraging words. I’m sorry if I was unfair to Auster, who certainly opened my eyes to more than one thing. I’m probably just remembering a couple of times when he was a little tetchy or imperious, and forgetting the many times when he was not. I am myself a sort of literary paleoconservative (albeit of a pretty low grade), so my criticism carries a risk of hypocrisy, but I’ve taken to heart the younger conservatives’ observation that literary paleoconservatives were quarreling over split infinitives while the left was winning the culture war. If rough and ready prose can find a receptive audience for our basic message, I’m not going to chide the writer of rough and ready prose. And we always have the example of St. Paul, who was painfully aware of his deficiencies as a rhetorician, compared to the long-forgotten silver-tongues of his day, and yet wrote letters that changed the world.

    • Bonald, I don’t see why you care what these liberal artists say. They think a baryon is some new miracle fabric, they can’t use slide rules, and they get to talk to girls. I say to hell with them.

  7. Bonald, may I please second Kristor’s comment? I always relish your posts, finding no formal objection to your prose. On the contrary, you are entirely in control of your grammar and syntax. I urge you to rejoin our common effort on a more frequent basis than in the last two or three months.

    • Not only is Bonald’s grammar good, but – as with almost all the people who write here (commenters included) – I read his prose with lively pleasure. He has a certain trenchant, economical precision that I envy.

  8. Kristor: Here is an example of egregious sloppy grammar from an article posted today at The American Thinker, “What Might Civil War be Like?” The author of the article writes, by way of introduction —

    “The thought of Civil War has been in the minds of many people lately, on both sides of the political and cultural divide. This is not a thing to be wished for, though no one should kid themselves into believing it’s impossible either.”

    The error, which I have highlighted, comes in the second sentence, and is the one I wrote about in the first paragraph of my earlier post. The error really jars, and more than that, it lessens whatever impact the (fairly long) remainder of the article might offer.

    PS: The same author commits the same error near the end of his article: “Were the war to stretch into years, the left would likely destroy their own economy with unfettered socialistic policies.” A plausible exposition thereby bookends itself with an eighth-grade solecism.

    PPS: Here is another solecism from The American Thinker, this one from an article about hush-money payoffs made by the Congressional Office of Compliance to squelch sexual harassment complaints against members of the House of Representatives: “The secretive nature of these settlements are supposedly to protect staffers making the complaints.” The subject of the sentence is not “settlements” but “the secretive nature.” The verb should be singular, not plural, “is,” not “are.”

    • Such errors jar because they confuse the reader about whether he is reading about a singularity or a plurality. They cause him to stop, and focus on language for a moment, so as to spot the error, dismiss it, and resume his interpretation of the ideas conveyed by the language.

      If the error is commonly encountered, this very step of clearing up confusion will eventually become almost automatic, and unnoticed. It is then that a reader will often fail to detect it when consciously proof reading. It was just this that happened to me in proofing the comment in this thread wherein, as Roger G. thankfully noticed, I committed the very same error.

      I was reflecting on this embarrassment last evening, and I have to say that I rejoiced at the irony of my error of pointing out the speck in my neighbour’s eye by means of the beam in my own; irony so thick you could spread it on hot toast and it would just sit there, a greasy gelid slab. Delicious.

      • Notwithstanding my attempted banter, Kristor and Tom know what I think of their prose, but Kristor says I have to lay off, so I’m trying. Now I do stand by my previous observations regarding their pronouns, conjunction, and participle, but what the hell. Grammar should be a set of tools, not manacles.

        And Bonald. You can’t write? Are you serious? Geez.

  9. Is the argument that ascribing to political liberalism will lead to liberal sexuality and grammar? Is the argument that these three are connected in some more general sense? Or do these three operate independently?

    • No. The argument is that liberalism is an endorsement of the Fall and that once liberalism dominates the institutions, its toxic fallenness inveigles everything. Liberalism is the abolition of Grace, which is why its prose is invariably graceless.

      • I think it would be more accurate to characterize liberalism as a rejection of the propriety of authority as such – not just political authority, but ecclesial authority, parental authority, the authority of Truth, of God, of reality, of Nature, of tradition, of custom and law, of logic, of reason, of grammar, and so forth. It is rebellion. And Lucifer’s rebellion was the archetype of all those that have followed.

      • Yeah, lots of people adhere to principles that are inconsistent, or act in ways that contravene their avowed principles. When your positions are at odds with reality, that sort of inconsistency is a crucially important survival mechanism.

        Not that liberals (of one sort or another) are the only people who engage in it. I bet everyone does, to some extent. For, even if all your principles are consistent with each other and with reality, your desires probably won’t be, on account of the fact that the Fall has confused your moral calculus with concupiscence. So you won’t do what you know to be right, and then your rationalization engine will kick in and offer you all sorts of reasons why an exception to your own rules of life was justified in that particular circumstance.

      • Lucifer didn’t reject authority as a general proposition, only the authority that God claimed to have over Lucifer. In the case of modern Liberals, they hide authority under something they call Reason. This really means Liberals in Authority, but they insist that we call it the Rule of Reason. That this is really a bunch of arbitrary judgments is obvious to anyone who is not himself a Liberal.

      • Well, once you’ve rejected the authority of the Absolute, any lesser authorities are going to fall by the wayside to boot, the moment they become inconvenient. If not even God Almighty has proper authority over me, then nothing else does, either. So a rejection of Divine authority is effectually, and so ipso facto, a rejection of authority as such.

        The problem with rebellion is that, as a species of disorder, it can’t form the basis of order – in society, or anywhere else. Authority is indispensable to life. So as you have noticed liberals have been forced to dress up their political authority as something else – the authority of Reason.

        But as liberalism homes in on its absurd implications with the post-modernists, the authority of Reason, too, has been explicitly defenestrated.

  10. Liberalism is the revolt against Grace, redemption, and transcendence hence my coinage of “subscendence.” Liberalism embraces ugliness because ugliness is the outward sign of nothingness. Liberalism is the creed of nothingness.

      • Your question was not what liberals are like, but what liberalism is like. Almost no one adheres with perfect consistency to any given ideology. That does not mean that the ideology is not what it is, or that it does not entail what it does.

      • For sure. But they are not consistent about living in accord with their principles, because, liberalism being incoherent, that’s impossible. That doesn’t stop them from condemning people who live by different principles, or who fail to live up to their own avowed liberal principles.

      • Is an ideology an ideology if no actual people adhere to it?

        Is a religion a religion if no one actually adheres to its tenets perfectly or consistently?

      • Liberalism is not problematic simply on account of the fact that there are liberals. It is problematic on account of the facts that it is false, and that it is vicious, and that there are liberals.

        A false religion would be problematic even if no one believed it. Why? It would suffer from the problem that it was false.

      • “But again, it seems like the rather large population of people that are labeled liberals do not necessarily embrace ugliness or nothingness.”

        All liberals embrace some degree of some of these things. Some liberals embrace the nth degree of all of these things. Because ugliness and nothingness are celebrated everywhere, even non-liberals must contend with their ubiquity.

      • To the extent a man is liberal, he is liberal. Having been raised in modern society, which is essentially liberal, most people today are somewhat liberal – even the most illiberal among them. As a recovering liberal, I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to drive out from oneself all vestiges of liberalism.

      • It sounds like you are saying that there are no true liberals and no true anti-liberals (or conservatives?). Rather, what we are really discussing is whether a person intends towards liberalism or anti-liberalism in their hearts. Would you say this is an accurate observation?

      • Not quite. I think there is a pretty tight analogy here with saintliness. There are real saints, and there are people who – having committed the only unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit – are already incorrigibly damned. But most people are somewhere on the spectrum between these two pure states. Likewise are there perfect tradents, and totally convicted liberals, but most people fall somewhere in between.

        You are right I think to take note of the intention of the heart. Some people are bound toward saintliness, and some toward damnation. Likewise some are bound toward traditional virtue – which is to say, toward true virtue – and others toward vice. The latter are prevented from the attainment of complete viciousness by the fact that vice contravenes life: so long as they act to live, they enact some degree of virtue. The former are prevented from the attainment of perfect virtue by the lingering effects of their vices.

      • winstonscrooge on December 20, 2017 at 10:28 PM

        That’s not really an apt analogy because you apparently have a problem with liberalism because people supposedly adhere to it.

        I’m not sure I follow. Although I take it Kristor has understood your meaning and has given the correct response. Nevertheless, I’m not at all sure how anything I have said on the subject, in this particular discussion or any of the others we’ve had concerning the matter, gives the appearance that I reject liberalism solely because people adhere to its principles.

        My biggest problem with liberalism is its falsehood. People only ever *adhere* to its principles partially, never fully or perfectly consistently. Why? Because they must. That people *embrace* liberalism and *espouse* its tenets without actually adhering to them perfectly consistently is no big surprise. Indeed, it is as predictable as that the sun will rise in the east.

        This is also why no one here would ever contend that political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism (of the type you speak) all the time. Albeit one can still be a sexual liberal, and at the same time not go around groping women or exploiting their relative positions of weakness for sexual favors. …

      • So you have a problem with liberalism because it is false and not because it has negative consequences on the society in which you live?

        That seems like a pretty unhelpful distinction. It’s perfectly reasonable to 1) hate all falsity everywhere and 2) prioritize which falsity to combat and to prioritize in part according to the harmfulness of the various falsities.

      • winstonscrooge on December 22, 2017 at 2:18 AM

        ???

        Your question is unserious. The statement my biggest problem with liberalism is x is plain enough. It does not mean, nor does it imply, I do not have a problem with y. You’re acting dumber than what you are.

    • Liberalism is a perpetuating self-annihilation. To practice “it” with perfect consistency is to self-annihilate, FINALLY. Ergo, liberalism is the regress to final liberation. Lawrence Auster recognized that “liberals” survive, ie., avoid a final annihiilation, by the invocation of “unprincipled exceptions.” Meaning, “liberals” survive by illiberal memes. This apparent paradox is nothing of the sort, rather, it is merely the perpetuating of a self-annihilation, ie. liberalism.

  11. Winstonscrooge,

    So you have a problem with liberalism because it is false and not because it has negative consequences on the society in which you live?

    I don’t agree completely with the definition of liberalism in this comment thread. However any falsehood believed by a sufficient number of people will have negative consequences in society. But it is still important to hammer away at the falsehood. If for nothing else, it prevents liberals – when confronted with the cesspool they’ve been assiduously building – from retreating into their perpetual position that liberalism is a little bad at the moment because we just haven’t done it well enough yet.

      • I think the question is perfectly timely seeing as no two Orthospherian contributors seem to agree on a definition and yet the conversation proceeds as if there is agreement.

      • winstonscrooge on December 22, 2017 at 5:23 AM
        I think the question is perfectly timely seeing as no two Orthospherian contributors seem to agree on a definition and yet the conversation proceeds as if there is agreement.

        That’s because there *is* broad or overall agreement.

        We’re not robots, Winston. Stop acting as though we are, or that we should be.

        Each of us has his own life experiences, his or her own education level, intellectual giftings, strengths and weaknesses and so on and so forth.

        If you want to reduce modern liberalism to a strict definition consisting of a string of twenty words or whatever that everyone can perfectly agree on, then that is your prerogative one supposes. But good luck with all that, and try not to lose your mind in the process, or at least when you finally discover your pursuit was ill-conceived from the git-go and a total waste of time and mental energy. None of us is going to get dragged down into that muck with you in any case; that misery loves company notwithstanding.

      • You all use the term liberalism as if you agree on the definition. You argued in the comments of my previous blog post that this agreement existed. But this clearly is not the case. If there is general agreement then there should be a general definition.

      • Winston:

        You argued in the comments of my previous blog post that this agreement existed. But this clearly is not the case. If there is general agreement then there should be a general definition.

        Uh, actually, no I did not. What I said was that Kristor would agree with Zippy’s definition, … as I recall. That *does not mean* Kristor and Zippy necessarily agree (on the definition of liberalism) in absolute terms, or in all the gory details, but only insofar as those terms go.

        But like I also said, by all means pose the question to Kristor explicitly; if I have wrongly attributed to him something he is not guilty of, I’m confident he’ll be more than willing to set us all straight … straight from the horse’s mouth.

  12. Winston @ Until around 1800, the word liberal was an adjective used to describe a man who was midway between a miser and a spendthrift. It was essentially synonymous with generous. In the early nineteenth century, it became a noun and took on specific religious and political meanings, but it continued to denote a moderate position between extremes. In the nineteenth-century United States, liberal was mostly a religious term, and it described a position between strict orthodoxy (generally understood to be Calvinism) and dogmatic free thinking (generally understood to be atheist). In Europe it was also anti-clerical, but the emphasis was on the liberal as midway between Reaction/Restoration and Radicalism.

    This means that the nineteenth-century liberal occupied a position between parties that made strong “truth claims,” and this obliged the liberal to espouse the epistemic doctrine of skepticism/agnosticism. His basic line was that the truth isn’t known, and cannot be known, so anyone who is not a public menace should be left in peace. As a practical political doctrine, this tolerance makes some sense, although the parties making strong truth claims said is was just cowardice and “kicking the can down the road.”

    For instance, a committed atheist must see liberalism as an excuse to prolong the life of institutions and beliefs that it is the business of a rational state to stamp out. Radicals obviously disapprove of liberal tolerance of right-wing opinions, as newspaper reports daily remind us. So there has always been an idea that liberalism was just a truce, not a peace treaty, and that one day the Waterloo of men with real beliefs must be fought.

    In the twentieth century, liberalism became less and less of a moderate position, and more and more of a stalking horse for soft leftism or Fabian socialism. One reason for this is that the parties to the right shrank to insignificance. Orthodox Calvinism ceased to be a political force in the U.S. in the 1920s, and Restoration/Reaction disappeared from Europe with the First World War. Another is that the Left was able to absorb liberal skepticism into the dialectic, with the result that Liberals were no longer skeptical of the Leftists (dialectical) truth claims.

    The result is that today’s Liberals are either disguised Leftists or Cucks who are soft on Leftism because they have no principles of their own.

      • Winston @ In theory it is a doctrine of moderation and tolerance rooted in dogmatic agnosticism. This means that, in theory, it has very little positive content of its own, and should act mainly to control the excesses of whatever dogmatic system is most aggressive at the moment. It’s battle cry is, “don’t be so sure about that! You might be wrong!”

        This is the theory: liberalism is the playground monitor, its job being to keep potential bullies in line.

        In fact, the agnosticism of most liberals is a sham, and this is evident in the gross partiality with which they police the playground. They obviously think feminists belong on university faculties and segregationists do not, and this means that they “know” more than they say they know. Yes, liberals fought the Cold War against Communism (at least they did after Joe McCarthy scared them, or opened their eyes), but they fought a Hot War agains fascism (after being as un-neutral as it is possible for a neutral power to be).

        If you think they were right to do these things, you are not a Liberal, but a Leftist.

        Now what I’ve written here could be read as the grousing of a right-wing looser who can’t abide the fact that, when men are actually free, they march to the Left. It is certainly possible that right-wing ideas are excluded from prominent platforms because most people are not interested in right-wing ideas. Heck, maybe Hegel was right and we are all just floating leftwards on the back of the World Soul. But, then again, if Hegel was right, then (honest) Liberals are wrong.

        I may have missed it, but have you given us your description or definition of Liberalism? It seems to me that we are playing a game of Guess What is in My Pocket.

      • I’m trying to understand what definition of liberalism you are all using. My sense is that there is a wide variation on that front despite Terry Morris’ ranting. For example Zippy defines liberalism as a political philosophy holding the promotion of freedom and equal rights are a legitimate government function (paraphrase). I like this definition but it sounds a lot different than what you have described.

      • I’m describing the philosophical foundations of state support for freedom and equality. That foundation is skepticism/agnosticism. The state leaves men free to think what they please because Liberalism says there is no way to settle the questions that divide them. The state treats all mean as equal for the same reason. Liberalism demands that every man should have the vote because every man’s opinion is equal, by which it means equally uncertain. Likewise, every man should have freedom of speech, etc. These are the Liberal freedoms and equalities. Equality before the law is not unique to Liberalism.

        If you want to make fun of the right-wingers, you might point out how we are nowadays hiding behind the skirt of Mama Liberalism.

      • Many questions. If truth is something you value, wouldn’t you admit it if you were uncertain about something? Would you support a system that did not allow people to express the truth of their state of mind? Why would this be preferable? Isn’t fairness rather than uncertainty the reason why every man should have the vote? What makes you think I am making fun of right wingers by pointing out they are not using a common definition when they discuss a topic?

      • JMSmith:

        It is certainly possible that right-wing ideas are excluded from prominent platforms because most people are not interested in right-wing ideas.

        Correction: most *reasonable* people are not interested…

        Little inside joke there, prof. S. Think nothing of it.

      • JMSmith:

        I may have missed it, but have you given us your description or definition of Liberalism? It seems to me that we are playing a game of Guess What is in My Pocket.

        Damn right! And it gets a little tiresome after awhile. I mean, are we little children, truly inquisitive about what the road sign up ahead says and means; or are we just playing a child’s game?

      • Winston:

        My sense is that there is a wide variation on that front despite Terry Morris’ ranting.

        What is your definition of “ranting,” and why don’t you provide us with other examples per se, as well as persons in agreement with your take.

        Why don’t you get over yourself, in other words. Seriously.

      • You seem to be getting upset, Terry.

        Here we go psychoanalyzing again. You *really should* stop doing that. You’re not very good at it to start with, even admitting it’s a legitimate function of mental science. Which I don’t.

      • winstonscrooge to JMSmith:

        Would you support a system that did not allow people to express the truth of their state of mind?

        TM (answering in behalf of TM, not of JMSmith):

        Yes, absolutely. Heaven permit that it be so again!

      • winstonscrooge on December 22, 2017 at 9:27 PM

        So you want people to lie to themselves? Why?

        Broadly speaking, I don’t much concern myself with whether or not people lie to themselves. I prefer they not, but I already know they/we (people) do (Kristor alluded to this universal human defect upthread when he mentioned peoples’ justification machine kicking in), and that there isn’t a whole lot I can do about it in the grand scheme. It’s a story as old as time; it goes back to when (to borrow from prof. Smith) Adam first chased Eve around the tree of knowledge and got caught red handed. So I tend not to worry myself with the problem outside my little circle where I have a measure of real influence.

        I didn’t say I want people to lie to themselves; I said I prefer a system that doesn’t permit them to *express* (your word, not mine) “the truth of their state of mind”(your sentence, not mine).

        Now, in order to unpack what I actually said (as opposed to the words you try to put in my mouth) and understand my intention, we have to keep everything in context. Context in this particular instance is prof. Smith’s statement(s) you spoke to with the question I quoted and spoke to.

        This all dovetails into the whole universal franchise thing (“one man, one vote” – “expressing the truth of the state of one’s mind” in the voting booth) equality/fairness nonsense. Of course I prefer a system that recognizes a distinction between, say, the average 40 year-old married father’s electoral qualifications and those of his 18-22 year-old SJW daughter. I would be a fool, and a denier of reality, if I didn’t.

      • Okay, Winston, fair enough. I take back that statement. Notice, though, that I treated your question as a serious one in spite of that remark.

      • BTW, Winston, I should have taken more time in my comment
        on December 23, 2017 at 3:24 AM and specified immediate context, as opposed to broader context. The latter of which influences what I write in answer to your questions as well, but of course has more of an indirect bearing on it. Plus, there is broader context, and then there is Broader context, and then there is even BROADER context, if you know what I mean. Whole to part and all that. 🙂

        In any case I still protest your calling my explanations “rants.” And on the same basic grounds you have protested my saying you were putting words in my mouth. Whereas you are just trying to understand where I’m coming from, I am merely (in my rants) trying to explain where I’m coming from.

  13. winstonscrooge,

    Your criticism may be reasonable to some extent – it’s one I’ve also registered. However, you’ve also been fairly explicit in your support of liberalism. Your support of liberalism has often included the various definitions of liberalism given here. So it’s hard to see your concern with pinpointing definitions as anything other than some rhetorical gotcha moment that doesn’t move the conversation forward. That may be *our* problem strictly from an apologetics standpoint. But it is ultimately *your* problem as being on the wrong side of history as a committed liberal.

    • No, I tend to use the Zippy definition. I legitimately wonder whether you are all using the same definition. I recognize my asking this question is getting certain people a little angry probably because they suspect a gotcha. That’s not my intent. Yes, I am a liberal according to Zippy’s definition but not according to some of the others. I still think a civil and reasonable conversation can be had on the topic although I guess not with some people.

      • The Zippy definition of liberalism is a good (a *very good*?) *base* definition. Even Zippy himself (I presume) would add his own caveats, if you nailed him down on it.

      • Winston:

        I recognize my asking this question is getting certain people a little angry probably because they suspect a gotcha.

        Not angry, annoyed. To anger me you’d have to say bad things about my wife or something like that. To annoy me takes a lesser offense.

        But you have complained before at your blog about the Orthospherean (or, well, Zippean I guess) “echo chamber,” for example. In spite of the fact that there are always at least minor points of disagreement between posters (here and at Zippy’s place), did you ever take the time to think about the implications of that (your) “echo chamber” charge?

        Yes, I am a liberal according to Zippy’s definition but not according to some of the others.

        This probably seems beside the point on the face of it, but I’m curious as to what ways (and according to whose definition) you are not a liberal. Dr. B’s, Prof. Smith’s? Whose?

        I still think a civil and reasonable conversation can be had on the topic although I guess not with some people.

        What is your definition of “uncivil?”

      • Why do you think it annoys you to have someone make the observation that Orthosphere contributors use different definitions for liberalism but converse as if they are using a common definition?

      • Anyone familiar with the TV series ‘Firefly’ will understand why doc reviewers are nicknamed ‘Reivers.’

  14. I have a suggestion that I hope will appeal to the chief Orthospherical commentators. It is the unhurried composition of A Grammar of Dissent — with an intentional play on the title of one of J. H. Newman’s books.

    The Grammar of Dissent should not be more than a few thousand words long. It might be set up with a preface, then a series of concise definitions of words -as used here- (e.g. of “liberalism”), and finally a series, as needed, of excursus notes.

    The Grammar could be subject to occasional revision, as needed, by its creators.

    It would be a useful resource for new visitors to The Orthosphere and as a source to which reference could be made when discussions arise as here. Of course, it would not be cited as if it were Holy Writ.

  15. Pingback: An Anti-Liberal’s History of Liberalism | Winston Scrooge

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