The Shabbiest Gospel

Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan was recently interviewed by the journalist Jonah Goldberg, and the congressman’s remarks disclosed a curious map of the political landscape. Not an accurate map, mind you, or even an honest map, but an inaccurate and dishonest map of the sort that too many Americans still consult as they stumble, thirsty and fly-bitten, through our political wilderness.

Ryan spoke without embarrassment of a need for “conservatives” to defend the principles of “classical liberalism,” thereby confirming that Republicans are actually “right liberals.” The word “right” is not altogether correct here, since these so-called “right-liberals” are in no sense “men of the right.”  As many before me have said, it would be better to call them something like “laggardly liberals,” or perhaps “retarded liberals,” since they are just stragglers at the tail end of the liberal parade.

Conservatism is properly the doctrine that there are aspects of traditional, pre-liberal belief and practice that ought to be protected from liberalism.  In other words, there are at least some things that existed before the eighteenth century that ought to be conserved.

Most true conservatives believe that liberty is a very fine thing, but they are conservatives because they deny that liberty is the only fine thing.  And this is why true conservatives fear and abhor a world run on exclusively liberal lines.  They know that, left to itself, classical liberalism produces a Gradgrindian world of atomized egotists and soulless materialism, and that this Gradgrindian world of atomized egotists and soulless materialism is a tinderbox and firetrap of socialist revolutions.

In the nineteenth century, classical liberalism was also known as “Manchester liberalism” or “political economy,” and its core principle was the universal utility of unregulated competition.  This principle was (and is) often indicated with the phrase laissez faire.  Contrary to what congressman Ryan and a great many deluded Americans think, to be “conservative” in the early nineteenth century was to oppose the universalization of political economy and unregulated competition.  Most conservatives saw the value of competition as a political tool, but they also saw that this was a tool of limited utility.  Indeed, they saw competition as a tool that could all too easily become an instrument of destruction.

The American conservative George Fitzhugh, for instance, argued that “political economy” and “free competition” must necessarily,

“beget a war in society that is as destructive to its weaker members as the custom of exposing its deformed and crippled children.”

Fitzhugh went on to say that this war in society rages with special fury in the labor market, where “the fierce competition for employment” leads to “ruinous underbidding,” and to “the rich devouring the poor, and the poor devouring one another.”

“This process of underbidding ends, when wages are reduced too low to afford subsistence, in filling poor-houses, and jails, and graves.”

These lines are from Fitzhugh’s 1854 book, Sociology for the South.  That this was written in defense of slavery no doubt explains the unwillingness of many real conservatives to nowadays own Fitzhugh as a precursor.  But those who are shy of Fitzhugh will find precisely the same conservative sentiment in Thomas Carlyle.

“This Mammon-Gospel of Supply-and-Demand, Competition, Laissez-fare, and the Devil take the hindmost, begins to be one of the shabbiest Gospels ever preached; or altogether the shabbiest . . . . That I have been called, by all the Newspapers, a ‘free man’ will avail me little, if my pilgrimage have ended in death and wreck . . . . The liberty especially which has to purchase itself by social isolation, and each man standing separate from the other, having ‘no business with him,’ but a cash-account: this is such a liberty as the earth seldom saw—as the earth will not long put up with, recommend it how you may” (Past and Present, 1843)

This is the conservative view of the “classical liberalism” that congressman Ryan and journalist Goldberg say they would like to conserve; and as you can see, in this conservative view, ‘classical liberalism’ cannot be conserved because it necessarily destroys itself along with everything else.  Classical liberalism is

“such a liberty . . . as the earth will not long put up with.”

* * * * *

Congressman Ryan also said that “conservatives” need to “push back” against the “blood and soil nationalists of the alt-right,” who, he said, “have hijacked things like Western Civilization.”

If congressman Ryan would only reflect for a moment on the name Western Civilization, he might detect a faint suggestion that this civilization is connected to the blood and soil of the West.  Indeed, were he to dispatch one of his aids to the Library of Congress, he would learn that the idea of Western Civilization arose in contradistinction to the civilizations that grew from the blood and soil of the East.  The West was born when Greeks began to see themselves as distinctly unlike the Persians and Egyptians, and when Romans began to see themselves as distinctly unlike the Phoenicians of Carthage.

Western Civilization was not born in some moonshine about Persians, Egyptians and Greeks being all alike!

I think we must include Herodotus in Western Civilization, and he was not condemning the Persians for their blood-and-soil want of cosmopolitanism when he wrote:

“The Persians esteem Asia . . . as their own peculiar possession, considering Europe and Greece as totally distinct and unconnected” (Histories, 440 B.C.).

And here is Hippocrates, a near contemporary of Herodotus, not to mention the father of western medicine:

“I wish to show, respecting Asia and Europe, how, in all respects, they differ from one another, and concerning the figure of the inhabitants, for they are different, and do not at all resemble one another” (Airs, Waters and Places (c. 400 B.C.).

The phrase “blood and soil nationalism” is a bugaboo with which cosmopolitan quacks attempt to frighten timid people who are not accustomed to thinking very hard.  The phrase entered our political vocabulary with the propaganda of the Second World War, where it served to denote a shadowy, bizarre and hateful Nazi doctrine that, the propaganda implied, no good man could possibly espouse.

But if good men thought about this for more than half a minute, they would see that attachment to blood and soil is noble and honorable, whereas men who lack these attachments are weasels, skunks and rats.  “Blood” is nothing more than the natural affection that every decent man feels for his kin.  “Soil” is simply the natural attachment that every normal man feels for his homeland.  So, if we will only turn off the spooky music and turn up the lights, “blood and soil nationalism” is revealed as nothing but loyalty to one’s patria, or what is properly known as patriotism.

I do not think anyone will deny that “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” is a patriotic song.  Written in 1831, it was as close to an American national anthem as any other song, until the “Star-Spangled Banner” was officially named a hundred years later.  There can be no question but that the idea of liberty looms very large in this song, but even here, in this paean to freedom, there are strong affirmations of blood and soil nationalism

“Land where my fathers died
Land of the pilgrim’s pride”

Note, that is “fathers” in the plural, meaning generations of ancestors—and those generations of ancestors appear again in the fourth verse.  The author of the song, Samuel Francis Smith, was a Massachusetts man who very likely descended from those proud pilgrims, and so, however highly he may have valued liberty, his patriotism was also tinctured with a loyalty to blood.

It was also rooted in a love of soil, for Smith’s “sweet land of liberty” was not only a political zone or ideological precinct.  It was an actual place with its own natural character and its own historical memories.  It was Smith’s “native land,” and the spot of earth that he loved best of all.

“I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.”

That, my friends, is love of soil.

* * * * *

Liberty is a very fine thing, but right liberalism is a shabby gospel that earth will not abide. It is a shabby gospel because it mistakes one fine thing for the only fine thing, and therefore fails to conserve all the fine things that liberty destroys.  And this is why real conservatives should tear up Paul Ryan’s map of the political landscape and recite with Fitzhugh

“We detest the selfish views of the Manchester school of politicians, and we loathe that hypocrisy which, under pretext of reforming, would destroy the institutions of the country.”

41 thoughts on “The Shabbiest Gospel

  1. Pingback: The Shabbiest Gospel | @the_arv

  2. … and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

    Our posterity, not the world’s posterity. Not the posterity of the world’s tired, its poor, its huddled masses yearning to be free and blah, blah.

    I read that Goldberg-Ryan interview and wrote a post about it similar to yours at the blood-and-soil loving private blog of my kith and kin. Admittedly not as well written as yours. I can nevertheless sum up my thoughts about the interview in three words – made me sick.

    • I can bear to hear such men say things with which I disagree, but not when they do so using a name that should be mine, and especially not when doing so using a name that should be mine and accusing me of having stolen that name.

      • Yeah, the whole ‘conservatives hijacked conservatism’ thing is pretty rich. I have watched “the Boy-Congressman” (inside joke) with at least some interest since he first became a household name. As you well know, he is no “conservative” in any meaningful sense of the term. That he presumes to lecture those of us to whom the term fits on what the term *really* means or to whom it *really* applies is fairly insulting as you say.

        I haven’t done due diligence on the whole Helsinki situation, but as I advised those within my immediate sphere of influence as soon as news broke that Trump had ‘dropped the ball’ and capitulated to Putin, ‘when right-liberal/neo-conservative shysters named John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Paul Ryan et al are leading the charge, you should immediately distrust but verify.

        I wrote a post awhile back titled Can Parrots be Liberals? in which I proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a Parrot, caged and groomed in a right-liberal home can in fact become a liberal. A few of the key indicators supporting my thesis were/are that he (the Parrot) watches Fox News religiously; he believes (religiously) in the principles of proposition nationhood; he talks all the time (never shuts up), yet is always telling everyone else in the house to “shut up!”; he believes in *legal* immigration (especially for parrots) and believes all species are created equal, albeit he thinks parrots are more equal than other species, although he never says so; he can recite the pledge of allegiance by heart and on command, but often extols the virtues of “our democracy”; he sings along whenever the national anthem is played at Oklahoma Sooners home football games, and emphasises with great pride along with his fellow Sooners fans in the stadium, “and the home of the SOONERS!” And so on.

        An alternative theory is that our Parrot is just parroting what he hears from the human occupants of his adopted home.

      • Our job is to teach the parrots a different banter. If they hear respected people say certain things, and mock certain other things, then they will begin to repeat them. Once the parrots begin repeating our truths, the parrots become our megaphone. The crux is not what is said, but the perceived respectability of the people who say it, since parrots are not persuaded by arguments. Parrots are persuaded by prestige and authority. There is an important lesson for dissident thinkers here. Share your dissident ideas with people who look up to you, but hold your peace with people who look down on you. This requires some humility, but there is noting to be gained (and much to be lost) by arguing with a man who has already put you down as a no-account fool.

        Even more than science, politics goes through “paradigm shifts.” To use Kuhn’s terminology, we have come to the end of the paradigm of “normal” politics that began in the 1970s. The politicians and political class have been the last to see this, and within this group right-liberals like Paul Ryan have been the last of all. I was interested to hear in the interview that he had “never heard of the alt-right” until a primary challenger claimed to be from the alt-right. I wouldn’t have expected him to be deeply interested in this small fringe movement, and a certainly wouldn’t have expected him to approve of it, but I would have expected him to be aware that such a movement existed. If I were the Republican Speaker of the House, I’d have a staffer give me weekly briefings on new developments in my “base.” This is why he needs to go.

      • With the rise of Trump it’s been funny to witness the neocons like Ryan use the phrase “traditional conservatives” to describe themselves. They did this a lot right after Trump was elected.

      • There is an important lesson for dissident thinkers here. Share your dissident ideas with people who look up to you, but hold your peace with people who look down on you…

        Uncommon allotment of wisdom you possess there, sir. Not so uncommon in these precincts of course, but in the broader context of alternative right conservatism.

        I have, for a long time now, shied away as much as possible from arguing with people who, by most indications they give off, think of me overall as a know-nothing kook. I figure most everyone is a kook to one degree or the other, but that is beside the point. There is something to be said for planting seeds, as it were. The good part is that the burden of hoeing and watering and otherwise tending those seeds planted in fertile soil is mostly left to other persons. It is, at the end of the day, God who gives the increase.

        There is also a certain level of satisfaction one derives when an old seed planted matures to fruit-bearing proportions. When the thoughtful Parrot comes to the point that he is touting an old principle as something he thought of on his own, you know he is halfway there. Given more time and reflection, he will eventually come to realize it wasn’t his original idea to begin with, nor that of the person(s) who first introduced it to him.

        Albeit thoughtful parrots are few and far between, as you rightly observe.

      • That’s why his talk of “hijacking” titles seems to betray a guilty conscience. Or perhaps Ryan really is ignorant of what his gang did to the paleocons.

      • My guess is the boy wonder is clueless but then again they are such a bunch of liars it’s hard to know for sure.

      • It is important to remember that very few practical politicians understand political philosophy, and also that political philosophers make terrible practical politicians.

  3. Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
    Who never to himself hath said,
    This is my own, my native land!
    Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
    As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
    From wandering on a foreign strand!
    If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
    For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
    High though his titles, proud his name,
    Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
    Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
    The wretch, concentred all in self,
    Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
    And, doubly dying, shall go down
    To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
    Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.

    Sir Walter Scott, from The Lay of the Last Minstrel.

    • pbw – The last five lines were quoted in “Groundhog Day;” a movie sometimes mistaken for light entertainment but actually profound.

  4. Right-wing liberalism is of the Right because it elevates abstracted “liberty” and “freedom,” and in effect disdains “equality.” What is of the Right is anti-egalitarian. Thus Nietzsche and theories of Fascism and Hitler were of the Right.
    As for conservatism, the question, as always, is “to conserve what?” If liberalism, then it and its cousin left-liberalism, the elevation of “equality,” are very obviously ill-defined. Anglo-liberalism is not really conservatism, but we are sadly stuck with it due to our radical beginnings. Slightly further back, this is why Burke, whom I admire, was basically fraudulent in the context of Kirk, et al.: he was a Whig. This is an insurmountable problem, and Mary Wollstonecraft was right to taunt him. (Yes, by the way, England should return to the worship of Bread.)

    • To be (R)ight is no less than a genuine desire for objective (S)upremacy. In passive cuck-speak, anti-egalitarian. The metaphysical assumption, contra the “left,” DENIES “universal equality” and posits (P)erfection aka The Perfect Man as the falsifying empirical reality.

      Nazis deny The Perfect Man as empirical reality and so suffer the self-annihilation inherent to “leftism” starting at Hitler himself. Ergo, Nazis are not white (S)upremacists nor of the (R)ight.

      Most simply, the “left” is a degenerating derivative of (R)ight. In this frame, a Nazis is a co-equal anti-white (S)upremacist to each and every avowed leftist.

    • “Right” liberals are egalitarians on the issue of race and free markets. Or more discriminately, “right” liberals elevate “free market” over racism thereby earning their liberal bona fides without losing face to their (r)ight. What “we” now understand is that “free markets” are incredibly “racist” WHEN ALLOWED TO BE TRULY FREE. And so “right” liberals are really just cuckservatives unwilling to explicitly define their mortal threats while being defined into “nothing” by all sides about them. All concerned individuals know that leftists will not let racist free markets stand. “Right” liberalism is a dead trans-action.

    • Liberartianism with its denial of political nature of man is the logical terminus of right-liberalism.
      The political nature of man leads to a separation into neighbors and strangers. This separation may be denied in two ways. Either by defining everyone to be strangers to everyone else –that is libertarianism–there is no community and no moral authority of the community.
      The leftism would have everyone as neighbor to everyone else. There are no strangers. The logical terminus is world-state.

      I would define political nature of man as by which man is organized into particular, morally authoritative self-ruling units. These units may variously be called nations, tribes or polities.

    • I agree that the Left is essentially egalitarian, but am not sure that the Right is, therefore, essentially anti-egalitarian. That would seem to give the Right a mere negative identity. My sense is that the Right is defined by its belief in social entropy, in the absence of any natural tendency for society to progress. The concern with order, discipline and hierarchy follow from this.

    • I’m unclear on what the essence of the ‘right’ actually is: it sometimes seems to me that it is simply whatever happens to be opposing the left at a given time. I think I would agree with JMSmith that while egalitarianism is essential to the left, anti-egalitarianism is not essential the the right. For example, right-liberals and Nazis both favor(ed) equality (see Zippy on the latter), they each just just have different baskets of unprincipled exceptions compared to the left. So I don’t think it is egalitarianism that distinguishes the left from the right.

      A stab at an alternative candidate for the defining characteristic of the right: a commitment to pre-rational forms of organizing society. For example, a commitment to the family, or to race, or to religion, etc., things that cannot be formulated according to rationalistic, impersonal rules. The more commitments one has to these sorts of pre-rational things, the more ‘right-wing’ one is. Right-liberals then, while still liberal, can be seen to be to the right of left-liberals, because they typically are more supportive of the traditional family and the nation than left-liberals. Likewise, the alt-right is to the right of left-liberals because of the former’s emphasis on race.

      However, I think the more fundamental and illuminating divide is not between left & right, but between modernist and ‘traditionalist’. By modernism, I mean any ideology that take some contingent, this-worldly good and elevate it to society’s ultimate good and standard by which all political decisions are judged. This standard could be freedom, the individual, the state, the nation, race, etc. Modernist ideologies prescind from religious questions and do not allow religion to have a publicly authoritative role, except insofar as it is subordinate to society’s ruling principle.

      By traditionalism, I mean the recognition that the transcendent Good must be society’s ultimate ordering principle, its final standard by which all other things are judged. In other words, society ought to be organized along religious lines and must have religion as its foundation. A more accurate word than traditionalism might be theocracy.

      With the modernist-traditionalist distinction, we can see that all current Western ideologies – left-liberalism, right-liberalism, libertarianism, alt-right – are firmly entrenched on the modernist side of things.

      • I agree that we can think of the Right as opposition to the Revolution, with opposition to egalitarianism being just one form that this takes. Two hundred years ago in Europe, this meant conservation of aristocratic privilege. But the opposition takes other forms, opposition to secularization being the one especially relevant to this site. I’m not sure how integral these various pet projects on the right are to one another, and wonder if this doesn’t explain the tendency of the right to fragment and loose its battles with the Left.

        I take the word modernism to be the name of a doctrine that everything must be renovated and changed in the modern age. There must be a distinctly modern art, a distinctly modern architecture, a distinctly modern religion, etc. Another way to say this is that there must be a comprehensive revolution in everything. A traditionalist thinks that the fact we have sent a man to the moon does not mean that we must change the structure of families, remove the rhymes from poetry, begin to paint abstractly, etc.

      • I’m not sure how integral these various pet projects on the right are to one another, and wonder if this doesn’t explain the tendency of the right to fragment and loose its battles with the Left.

        Do you think the right suffers from this more than the left? It seems to me that the left has often been every bit as fractious as the right, e.g., all the Communist infighting during the 20th century, fights between socialists and Communists, between liberals and socialists in the 19th century, etc. And you’ll often hear people on the left make the very same complaints about their own side. My sense is that it is from excessive insider familiarity with our own group’s problems and lack of this insider familiarity with the enemy’s problems that things only seem this way.

        If it is true that the right tends to fragment more than the left, my hypothesis would be that those on the right tend to have a greater commitment to truth, and so will be less likely to tolerate other groups that they regard as being in error.

      • The Left is certainly fractious, as we can see in the Democratic party right now, but it fragments in a different way than the Right does. They tend to agree about where they want to go, but to disagree about how to get there. Communists were constantly getting into theoretical arguments over the means to a socialist society. Stalinism was essentially designed to stop these arguments and get to work. Because the Left agrees about the ends, they are much more tolerant of their own extremists. Many people in the center-left secretly admire the far-left, and feel a little guilty that they lack the courage to act out their convictions. Needless to say, there are very few people on the center-right who admire the far-right.

        Lionel Trilling once dismissed the politics of the American Right as “irritable gestures,” and there is some truth in what he said. A lot of people on the Right are bugged by one thing the Left has done, or would like to do. They are “irritated” over guns, or abortion, or regulations, or political correctness, but they are not bound together by a theory or a bright vision of where they would like to go.

      • That makes sense, and I think is better than my proffered hypothesis.

        In other words, the right – or what gets perceived as the right, anyway – has no positive unifying principle. They are defined by what they oppose.

      • The various parts of the Right can too easily devolve into mere irritable opposition, but I’d like to think they all begin in the hope of defending (conserving) something that they love. Conservatives are interested in the conservation of ways of life that liberalism threatens to destroy.

      • By traditionalism, I mean the recognition that the transcendent Good must be society’s ultimate ordering principle, its final standard by which all other things are judged. — Ian

        Yes… But at this juncture, the above articulation is pure cuck-speak and so disqualifies itself from the realm of (R)ight. No offense Ian, but you have deracinated “traditionalism,” refused to translate “transcendent Good” into a contextually relevant actual and just will not state explicitly that (R)ight does not acknowledge “universal equality” in any way, shape or form. In effect, the (R)ight is to “universal equality” what the “left” is to objective (S)upremacy. The adaption is a radical autonomy to one’s radical autonomy. So when “we” acknowledge that the super mass is “liberal,” we are saying that the most of us retain some belief in “universal equality” that precludes us from being totally (R)ight at which “place” there is only desire for (P)erfection and no recognition of “equality” anywhere in the Uni-verse.

      • The “left” is anti-white (S)upremacy, ie., against white man’s desire for (P)erfection. The (R)ight is objective (S)upremacy. And only racists can be (R)ight. This is a very explicit articulation of (R)ight versus “left.”

  5. Pingback: The Shabbiest Gospel | Reaction Times

    • The plan is to call any atomistic individualists who notice the threat “red baiters” and “Islamophobes.” Or you could call them “blood-and-soil nationalists” and complain about “identity politics.” The main thing is to keep the other individualists atomized.

  6. “It is a shabby gospel because it mistakes one fine thing for the only fine thing, and therefore fails to conserve all the fine things that liberty destroys.”

    Lawrence Auster once wrote that an ideologue is someone who can’t count past one.

  7. In case you missed it, at the height of the furrow over Helsinki, Ryan chimed in with this gem: ‘There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia’. The Speaker speaks in cliches. Perhaps he thinks in them as well.

    • In the interview with Goldberg, Ryan made several references to the danger of “relativism.” His mental world was formed in the 1980s and his language betrays it. The “moral equivalence” trope made some sense in the 1980s, when Leftists were big on the “we’re just as bad as the Soviets” theme, but it is a dangerous way to think. For neocons like Ryan, it comes to mean that dubious acts by the U.S. are moral because they are done by a moral country in a moral cause.

      • Except Paul Ryan is exactly right to denounce claims of ‘moral equivalence’ between the U.S. and Russia: Russia is quite clearly morally superior to the U.S.

    • For neocons like Ryan, it comes to mean that dubious acts by the U.S. are moral because they are done by a moral country in a moral cause.

      Along with you and numerous others who frequent the Orthosphere and other Traditionalist blogs and websites, I have been at pains to point this out and warn of its dire implications for years! Of course I have been branded by some as “unpatriotic” for my efforts, but that is the nature of the beast.

  8. Pingback: The evolving narrative of conservative stupidity – The Orthosphere

  9. To tell what “Right” & “Left” really are, we need to look at their history. This is usually counted from the Revolutionary assembly in France. But the two are older than that. Want to read some old,very Left philosophy? Try Tao te Ching by Lao Tsu. If you read it as political instead of religious or philosophical, the egalitarian, utopian longing stands out. Contrast with his contemporary, Confucius, who was very conservative. It looks as though this divide manifests something that has always been with us.
    Jack Donovan in his book, “The way of Men” says, “The way of men is the way of the gang.”, & traces this back to the Stone Age & the Hunt.


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