Lawrence Auster on the Root Cause of Why We Are Letting Our Culture be Destroyed

From the late, great traditionalist blogger Lawrence Auster comes this min-essay clarifying the meaning of transcendence. Auster points out that unless our activities, loyalties and institutions have meanings that transcend their merely physical elements, we cannot understand them, love them, or act to protect them.

In a postscript to the essay, Auster observes:

My main purpose in this discussion is to get at the root of why we our letting our culture be destroyed. I’m saying it’s because we have lost the experience of the transcendent as it is related to our specific culture, and therefore we don’t have the will to preserve or defend our culture. [Emphasis added] The transcendent needs to be understood not only in relation to the idea of God, but in relation to culture. If the transcendent is only experienced in relation to universal morality or God, then we end up with modern conservatism, which worships universal ideas of democracy and puts 99 percent of its moral energy into opposing abortion, but which fails to defend our culture as a culture from the innumerable ills that threaten it from without and within. It is no coincidence that both neoconservatives and evangelical Christians favor mass non-European immigration. It is because they lack a sense of the transcendent quality of our particular culture and nation.

Here is the essay:  (Source.)

*

What is transcendence and why does it matter?
Lawrence Auster
Unpublished fragment, 2001

The key to the Secular-Democratic world view—and to the loss of our traditional culture which that world view has destroyed—is the denial of transcendence. Before we proceed further in this discussion, it is essential that we grasp what this means. Fortunately that will not be difficult, since transcendence plays a key role in every person’s experience of life, including the lives of those who deny its existence.

In religious terms, of course, transcendence means “beyond the world,” in the sense that God as revealed in the Bible exists outside the physical universe of which he is the creator and is not an object of direct human experience or of scientific reason based on the evidence of the senses. But the idea of transcendence does not apply only to God in his ultimate transcendence. The quality of being objectively real yet beyond immediate sensory experience applies to all human values and institutions. It could be described as the quality of any whole that is larger than the sum of its parts.

A marriage, for example, is not simply constituted of the man and woman who make it up; it is something larger in which the partners participate and which provides the very meaning of their life together, even though the institution of marriage that binds them is invisible to the senses and all that can be seen is the couple and their actions. Similarly, a sports team is not just a collection of athletes, but a larger entity that provides the ordering structure of their activities as well as the primary object of their fans’ loyalties; when a team becomes a collection of free agents, it often loses, to the fans’ distress, its character as something that transcends the individual players. In the same way, a nation, along with its whole system of common rules and interests, is a larger and more enduring entity than all the people who belong to it. Although its quality as a nation cannot be seen or experienced with the senses, its members do not doubt its reality or its function in establishing the meaningful order of their lives; they are even willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of that larger whole that they cannot see.

The idea of transcendence applies not only to social and moral institutions but to natural categories and socially defined roles such as male, female, child; policeman, priest, President. In belonging to any of these categories the individual partakes of a meaning greater than himself. The very idea of “man”—the largest human class to which we all belong—is not an object of experience. We cannot see “man” anywhere. We see individual human beings. None of those individual human beings is “man,” even though “man” is the essential nature of what human beings are, and, according to the Declaration of Independence, the very source of our rights as individuals. Further, each individual is also “transcendent,” in the sense that his inner self or consciousness cannot be seen or experienced by the senses, yet we know that it exists and is the source of his value as a person.

Though the concept of transcendence is not referred to in ordinary political discussion, it is at the heart of people’s deepest values that underlie all their political concerns—their love of their country and its history, their love for their parents and children and friends, their memories of their home town, their response to nature and art and literature, their belief in justice, or their sense of outrage at some injustice. All those things go beyond the specifics that can be seen, heard, or touched; and without the invisible added element they would fall far short of what they are for us. Transcendence is the matrix of basic allegiances that cannot always be justified in rationalistic terms because the true value of any thing can be known only through participation in that thing, not through mere external observation or manipulation of it.

The Secular-Democratic consciousness, especially in its more radical stages, devalues and denies this invisible dimension of existence. To the Secular-Democratic mind, a police officer is not a symbol of the constituted authority of society (which is itself a transcendent idea), but just a man with a gun. A priest is not the representation of Christ, but just a man in a funny uniform going through obscure, even absurd, gestures. A human being does not represent the transcendent essence “man,” but is simply a bundle of needs, desires, and rights (though where these human rights come from if there is no transcendent human nature to base them on is never made clear). Similarly, marriage is not the fulfillment of God’s command in Genesis that “a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” It is any pairing of persons seeking mutual gratification, lasting as long as both partners find it gratifying. A nation is not an enduring essence transcending its individual members, but an ever shifting collection of individuals with an ever expanding portfolio of demands that the government must satisfy. And since the nation is not a transcendent idea, the flag that symbolizes it has no higher significance; it is only, as many liberals love to sneer, “a piece of cloth,” a phrase that perfectly conveys their contempt for the transcendent, and their undying wish to free humanity from its “oppressive” claims.

Another phrase with which liberals attack transcendence-based standards is “Why not?”: Why not allow people to burn the flag? Why not permit marriage between two persons of the same sex? Why not allow a 15-year-old boy to come to school dressed as a girl? Why not have female priests? Why not have female soldiers? Why not encourage children to treat their teachers and parents as their equals? Why not import totally incompatible cultures into our society? Why not surrender our national independence to a global government?

And here we come to the nub of the problem: In a society that has lost the experience of transcendence, in a society that sees only the material or individualistic side of things, there is no answer to these questions. Without an allegiance to its own transcendent essence and the ability to articulate it, no institution—and no nation—can survive the Secular-Democratic critique. Indeed, the members of such a society will fail even to recognize that a threat exists, since they no longer have any consciousness of the thing that is threatened.

At the same time, since people cannot actually live together without institutions, the breakdown of institutions based on shared adherence to a higher truth must lead to new institutions based, not on any ideal, but on the increasingly naked assertion of will—whether it be the will of “the people,” or the will of some oppressed minority, or the will of some managerial or ideological elite who seek to redesign the society from top to bottom. For these reasons, whenever the Secular-Democratic consciousness has gained power it has repeatedly led to various kinds of extremism and statism, except in those societies, such as Britain and the United States, where it was balanced and moderated by surviving elements of the Classical-Christian consciousness.

(End of Essay)

A couple of comments:

To the Secular-Democratic mind, a police officer is not a symbol of the constituted authority of society (which is itself a transcendent idea), but just a man with a gun.

With mayors and governors withdrawing the police’s authority to arrest looters or disperse rioters, police are powerless to do their jobs. Indeed, a policeman without the ability to punish wrongdoers could be said not actually to be a policeman at all.

[Without transcendence a] nation is not an enduring essence transcending its individual members, but an ever shifting collection of individuals with an ever expanding portfolio of demands that the government must satisfy.

A perfect description of globalism.

Update (6/18/2020)

The post has generated some controversy. I attempt some clarification:

To say that something is “transcendent” is not necessarily to go full platonic.  Look again at what Larry said about marriage:

[Without transcendence] marriage is not the fulfillment of God’s command in Genesis that “a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” It is any pairing of persons seeking mutual gratification, lasting as long as both partners find it gratifying.

But if marriage is something in particular, then it is not “any pairing of persons seeking mutual gratification, lasting as long as both partners find it gratifying.” To say that marriage has a specific nature, and therefore that same-sex pairings can never be marriage, is to invoke a transcendent. Marriage transcends “pairing of persons seeking mutual gratification, lasting as long as both partners find it gratifying.”

The left denies transcendence when it seeks to destroy, but affirms it implicitly when it tries to build new ways. Liberals said marriage was “nothing but a piece of paper” back when they were about destroying bourgeois values; now that they are in the business of re-forming society they claim marriage is something precious, so that disallowing any couple (or group!) who wants it is a great injustice.

As Larry’s essay points out, the real issue is not transcendence vs “nothing-but-a-piece-of-paper” nominalism. Everyone believes in some sort of transcendence. But if everything is transcendent, then for all practical purposes, nothing is.

I must also reiterate Larry’s main point:

My main purpose in this discussion is to get at the root of why we our letting our culture be destroyed. I’m saying it’s because we have lost the experience of the transcendent as it is related to our specific culture, and therefore we don’t have the will to preserve or defend our culture.

We’re not defending the transcendent simpliciter. We’re defending the traditional transcendents of our people.

 

41 thoughts on “Lawrence Auster on the Root Cause of Why We Are Letting Our Culture be Destroyed

  1. This sounds like Charles Williams’s thought at first glance (Anglican author of The Descent of the Dove, Inkling, friend of Lewis and Tolkien, etc.).

  2. What he says is true, but we have also lost our appreciation for the particular and the concrete. Most people seem to live in a world of abstractions, so that particularities become just an instance of something general. People see “a creek,” not Six Mile Creek or Cedar Creek. I think loosing a sense of the particular and a sense of the transcendent go together, although I’m not sure I can say why. As Malcolm Pollack says, it has something to do with our misunderstanding Plato.

    • Could it be that the mass of humanity, having lost the sense of the transcendent, has become mediocre or middling in their aspirations, their abilities and, more particularly, their apprehensions? Just as their gaze is almost entirely mediated by others, their reflection on what they perceive has neither heighth nor depth. We are all no doubt familiar with the legions of mostly young people who travel about with smartphone in hand, ever ready to photograph/video/tweet about something they observe rather than actually appreciate it in and of itself first. They are literally reducing everything within their ambit to two dimensions instead of three or four; and proceeding to the only judgment that seems to matter anymore: like or dislike. The absurdity of their impoverishment whiplashes me between pity and contempt.

      • I’m not sure that any of us have a very clear idea what we mean by transcendent, but we all seem to understand it as some kind of higher order in which we aim to participate. I have an old man’s horror of smart phones, but I’m not sure they prevent participation with this higher order. Or I should say that they are uniquely powerful in preventing participation. They certainly facilitate triviality in humans, but we succeeded in leading trivial lives without them.

    • Agree. The particular and concrete is the vehicle or medium through which we ‘grasp’ the transcendent. My particular culture and traditions, for example, are the means by which i grasp universal moral norms.

  3. Well, our lives are necessarily lived among the particular. (We don’t have a Dog, we have a dog.) But the tension of that relation between the particular and the transcendent is what stretches our souls. When we lose that, and live entirely in the one or the other, we are like a kite without a string.

  4. Pingback: Lawrence Auster on the Root Cause of Why We Are Letting Our Culture be Destroyed | Reaction Times

  5. I also see traces of Max Scheler and T.S. Eliot. We’ve inverted values that lead to communities of order and trust, replaced by social fragmentation and resentment based on the will to power. From transcendent order to one of pure utility.

  6. A marriage, for example, is not simply constituted of the man and woman who make it up; it is something larger in which the partners participate and which provides the very meaning of their life together, even though the institution of marriage that binds them is invisible to the senses and all that can be seen is the couple and their actions….The idea of transcendence applies not only to social and moral institutions but to natural categories and socially defined roles such as male, female, child; policeman, priest, President. In belonging to any of these categories the individual partakes of a meaning greater than himself….

    Another phrase with which liberals attack transcendence-based standards is “Why not?”: … Why not permit marriage between two persons of the same sex?

    Why do you think gay couples want to get married? It’s not for the sex, you don’t need marriage for that. It’s not for the legal advantages, although that is a consideration. But really, it’s because they want to participate in the transcendental category of marriage. Whether you think they should be allowed to or not, it is weird to think that they are somehow trying to devalue the concept of marriage. If it wasn’t highly valued, nobody would care.

    It is also weird to see how poorly conservative thinkers model their enemies on the left (although I suppose leftist models of conservatives aren’t much better). In this case, the mistake is taking hostility to a particular conception of transcendent values for hostility to transcendence as such.

    I presume this is due to a limited imagination. You can’t imagine how people with different values actually think, so you make them into absurd cartoons.

    The Secular-Democratic consciousness, especially in its more radical stages, devalues and denies this invisible dimension of existence. To the Secular-Democratic mind, a police officer is not a symbol of the constituted authority of society (which is itself a transcendent idea), but just a man with a gun.

    Also off-base. The current objections to cops are because they are failing to hold to their symbolic roles as agents of the state and of justice, and are instead acting more like a street gang of thugs. It’s the cops, not the “secular democratic mind”, who are failing to adhere to the transcendent, and the leftists who are trying to hold them to higher standards.

    • Auster responds to your first objection in the linked post at View From the Right: (The system does not allow me to format the quote properly, so I will set it off with asterisks)
      **
      By way of reply, my first point is that my discussion is taking place within the framework of the Classical-Christian tradition that formed the West and America. What I’m saying about transcendence doesn’t make sense without that context.

      My second point will seem to contradict the first. It is true, as the reader says, that giving transcendent value to things is a universal activity. People give transcendent value to things, including bad things. For a Mafia member, his gang has a transcendent value. The answer, obviously, is that the process of valuation needs to be subjected to the moral law, just like any other human activity. Yet we cannot subject this act of valuation to a moral and religious framework unless we first understand it.

      My main purpose in this discussion is to get at the root of why we our letting our culture be destroyed. I’m saying it’s because we have lost the experience of the transcendent as it is related to our specific culture, [emphasis added]…

      [snip]

      Now, could this same idea of transcendence be used to advance Nazi Germany, or a jihad terrorist gang, or homosexual marriage, or the lifestyle of David Brooks’s Bobos? Yes, it could. But that, as I’ve said, simply requires us to make the moral and rational distinctions that we need to make in all human affairs in any case. These include, first of all, the distinction between moral right and wrong, but they also include the distinction between transcendence based on objective values and the substitute forms of transcendence that populate liberal society.
      **

      About your comment about the cops: You’re not accurately describing what’s happening, but if I were accurately to describe the situation I would put myself in danger from the Thought Police. Disagreement with the official narrative is now officially criminalized.

      • You are right, he does addres that. He likes transcendence based on “objective values”, but not the “substitute forms…that populate liberal society”.

        Sadly, I have no reason whatsoever to accept Mr. Auster as an arbiter of which transcendences are objective or authentic.

        And this statement doesn’t jibe with the rest of his article where he claims the problem is poeple who have no adherence to transcendence and only operate on will or power – that is what I was responding to.

    • As I recall, Auster was a bachelor, and so is just blowing bubbles about marriage. Married conservatives do not wrap marriage in that romantic twaddle. Marriage is a social technology that forces a man to acknowledge his children and provides some assurance they are actually his. Infertile couples do not need marriage, and neither do couples who obtain children through legal adoption. It is great when a married couple enjoys the Platonic union of soul-mates, but the fact they are married has no affect on that. You will recall that the first stage of the sexual revolution insisted that there was no connection between marriage and love, indeed that marriage was really a wet blanket on passion and noble sentiments. It was only in the second stage that marriage became so prestigious and spiritual that it could not be withheld from homosexual unions. I expect homosexual couples enter into marriage for many different reasons, just like heterosexual couples. But whatever their reasons, the institution has no purpose in their situation because they are infertile and acquire children through legal adoption. Calls to mind something about a fish and a bicycle.

      Protesters are also hollering for all sorts of reasons, and a few may have taken to the streets for the reason you describe. Others are out there for the loot and the thrills. Others are anarchists who believe that all force is illegitimate and ACAB. Others object to cops who kneel on the necks of men like George Floyd, but would take a broader view of cops who knelt on the necks of men like me. Most are probably blowing off steam after being locked in the house for three months. I expect that many protesters ranged through all of these modes of anger in a single protest, leaving the house out of boredom, rising to tearful ecstasy as they chanted BLM, BLM, later exulting in flame and shattered glass, and then falling asleep to sweet dreams of knees on other necks.

      • As I recall, Auster was a bachelor, and so is just blowing bubbles about marriage. Married conservatives do not wrap marriage in that romantic twaddle.

        What kind of bizarre nonsense statement is this? Why don’t you point out which part of Auster’s statement you actually disagree with rather than just wrapping your objection in rhetorical twaddle? Auster’s short statement should be something obvious to conservatives and sounds like the sort of thing Bonald has often written about marriage. Marriage obviously is something that transcends the individuals involved and something that does provide meaning to their lives. (Also, you know, bachelors often have, um, parents who are married). St. Paul – another bachelor blowing bubbles, presumably – writes of marriage in even more grandiose terms.

        Marriage is a social technology that forces a man to acknowledge his children and provides some assurance they are actually his.

        Ok. But it’s obviously not only this.

      • I was really responding to a.morphous, who had turned Auster’s spiritualized conception of marriage into a strong argument for gay marriage. As I’ve just written in answer to him, religious people too often get drunk on their own poetry and their enemies use it against them. I have been happily married for 28 years, and this was not due to emphasizing the transcendent significance in the marriage. When you emphasize the transcendent significance of marriage, you make marriage fragile because every marriage has long stretches when transcendent significance is nowhere to be seen. I’m not saying that the marriage is unhappy, only that there are no angels singing when she’s mopping the kitchen and you’re mowing the yard.

      • For a poster on a religious blog, you certainly have a materialistic mindset.

        I have no particular faith, but I have a more sacralized view of marriage than you do. It’s sacred (a) because it touches on and socializes some very deep and basic human needs, and (b) humans recognize that and create a sense of sacredness into the institution by the nature of their participation in it.

        That’s not to say it’s not a lot of other things, including an economic and sexual arrangement.

        Auster is saying, marriage is transcendent therefore we can’t change it to let gays in. You are saying that it’s not transcendent and so there is no good reason gays should want in. But in the latter case, why not let people decide for themselves? Why should you care?

      • I’d prefer to call it a sober mindset. Conservatives and religious people have a bad habit of getting drunk on their own poetry. I think this comes from their false idea that their opponents are unprincipled materialists. In their eagerness to hear themselves say something noble and fine, C & RP often say things that can later be used against them. The romantic conception of marriage is a good example. This conception is only about two hundred years old, and Christians originally opposed it because fine feeling come and go.

        Gay marriage is a done deal, but the argument against it from my perspective would be this. Issuing a marriage license to an infertile couple is like issuing a building permit to a pauper. What is more, granting the social technology to a couple that cannot use it obscures its purpose in the eyes of those who can. The love of one human for another is private, and there is no need for an official announcement to the community. The intention to add new members to that community on the other hand . . .

      • JMSmith,

        [R]eligious people too often get drunk on their own poetry and their enemies use it against them. I have been happily married for 28 years, and this was not due to emphasizing the transcendent significance in the marriage. When you emphasize the transcendent significance of marriage, you make marriage fragile because every marriage has long stretches when transcendent significance is nowhere to be seen.

        I don’t see why it matters whether you emphasized the transcendent significance of your own marriage. This is hardly relevant. The fact is that marriage does transcend the two individuals involved whether or not they recognize it: they are participating in something larger that themselves. It’s as basic as that. Also, I would hardly say describing marriage this way amounts to romanticizing it. An unmarried man who grew up with a dozen siblings can still recognize that ‘family’ transcends the individual members involves, even while realizing that its day to day operation tended to be pretty mundane and filled with petty squabbles.

        Issuing a marriage license to an infertile couple is like issuing a building permit to a pauper. What is more, granting the social technology to a couple that cannot use it obscures its purpose in the eyes of those who can.

        Infertile couples can still be married though, and such couplings have, as far as I know, always been recognized publicly as marriages in the Christian West. This doesn’t subvert the institution of marriage so long as such couples are not refusing to have children though. It’s the disposition that matters.

      • It may be true that a marriage is transcendental, whether or not one chooses to emphasize that. My point is that the romantic insistence that the transcendental property of marriage is its essence opened the way to same-sex marriage. Baby-making avoids that. In the old days there was no way to know that a couple was infertile until they were married, except for a few outliers like re-marriage or late marriage after menopause.

    • But really, it’s because they want to participate in the transcendental category of marriage. Whether you think they should be allowed to or not, it is weird to think that they are somehow trying to devalue the concept of marriage.

      Wanting to participate in the “transcendental category of marriage” presupposes that marriage has an essence. Denying that it does indeed devalue the concept. Malcolm Pollack is right that nominalism is the problem.

      The current objections to cops are because they are failing to hold to their symbolic roles as agents of the state and of justice, and are instead acting more like a street gang of thugs. It’s the cops, not the “secular democratic mind”, who are failing to adhere to the transcendent, and the leftists who are trying to hold them to higher standards.

      Are riots, looting, murder, and mayhem – in which many innocent people have been targeted and who have nothing to do with the Floyd killing or the police in general – an appropriate response to one alleged murder? (I say ‘alleged’ because I know nothing of the details of the George Floyd killing and don’t care to). Obviously not.

      It is insane that the George Floyd killing is a national story rather a mere local story.
      Stipulating that it was cold-blooded murder, in a nation of over 300 million people, there are bound to be some bad cops. This fact says absolutely nothing about cops as a whole. Once again, our national media destroys a positive social role by focusing on the handful of cases that go against type (just as they have done with priests). (How often is there a national news story about a cop rescuing someone or preventing some crime?).

      Moreover, the cop who killed Floyd is being investigated and will have his day in court. It’s not as though cops who kill civilians are permitted to do so with impunity.

      Meanwhile, homicides have skyrocketed under leftist media rule. How’s that for ‘higher standards’?

      • Wanting to participate in the “transcendental category of marriage” presupposes that marriage has an essence.

        Why?

      • Why should the question of whether there is an eternal, unchanging essence to marriage determine whether or not someone wants to participate in it?

        Metaphysics aside, it’s empirically false, since there exist some people who want to both alter the definition of marriage, and participate in it, whatever their reasons might be.

      • For something to transcend its constituent parts means that the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. This is something that no mere artificial construction can accomplish. So if marriage is a mere human construction and nothing more, it cannot be transcendent. Another way of putting it: a cause cannot give more than it has, so if marriage is a mere construction, it does not transcend what the individuals give it.

        Further, if marriage is a mere human construct, there can be nothing unjust about whether or not homosexuals can participate in it. It is arbitrary, and defining marriage as between one man and one woman is no better or worse morally than defining marriage between two men. It’s just whatever suits our fancy.

      • Holism is different than transcendence in my book, but I’m not a lexical policeman. I have said that traditional marriage is not a “mere human construct” like a novel, but a human construct profoundly constrained by the laws of nature, like a bridge. And we can ask God to bless a marriage just as we ask him to bless a bridge. That doesn’t make the bridge into a cathedral.

      • For something to transcend its constituent parts means that the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. This is something that no mere artificial construction can accomplish.

        Why? You seem to take this as axiomatic and obvious, but it’s false (eg a house is made out of lumber etc, but it is more than the sum of its parts).

        Further, if marriage is a mere human construct, there can be nothing unjust about whether or not homosexuals can participate in it. It is arbitrary, and defining marriage as between one man and one woman is no better or worse morally than defining marriage between two men. It’s just whatever suits our fancy.

        First: your language about “mere human” constructs sort of gives the game away. You don’t think much of humans so any creativity or transcendence has to come from somewhere else. I don’t accept that.

        Second: I explained how social constructs aren’t arbitrary in an earlier comment, so you can go read that one again until you understand it.

        Third: the case of gay marriage is interesting because it was driven by one transcendent value (justice) modifying or destroying another transcendent value (marriage). For normal people it’s a modification, for religious extremists, busybodies, and the brittle-minded, it somehow destroys marriage, and culture and civilization along with it.

      • eg a house is made out of lumber etc, but it is more than the sum of its parts

        That’s a good objection, and one that I considered briefly when I wrote my previous comment, but didn’t have time to devote enough thought to in order to address preemptively.

        But consider that specific point conceded. I was too quick to say something artificial cannot transcend its parts. In the case of a house, it receives this ‘transcendence’ from an external source: the mind of the architect. It does not come from the parts themselves. Because again, things cannot give what they do not have. This latter point would still apply to marriage if it is granted that it transcends the individuals involved. If something transcends its human members, it is unclear how the human members could themselves supply this transcendence.

        I explained how social constructs aren’t arbitrary in an earlier comment, so you can go read that one again until you understand it.

        Where?

        ***

        At any rate, this essay on transcendence appears to have turned into an argument over ‘gay marriage’. On that front, I agree with JMSmith: it is true that marriage transcends the man and wife, and while this is a useful example in illustrating what it means for something to be transcendent, it is not the most fruitful way of defending marriage. The most fruitful way of defending marriage is by pointing to its fruit: children.

      • I said:

        I’d say yes, for me marriage is closer to a novel than a bridge. There’s a lot of confusion about what “constructed” means in the sense of social or cultural construction. It doesn’t mean that things can be absolutely arbitrary, but it does mean that a signifiant measure of human agency is involved, and hence freedom of choice. In this sense novels and bridges are both cultural constructions, each involving designer/author/engineers who make choices according to what they are trying to do and by the constraints of their materials. Marriages too.

  7. Sigh, you people disappoint me. I’m not sure why, you are declared conservatives socially, so one would expect you to be have a conservative epistemology as well. If you can’t or won’t defend it, well, that is also very conservative.

    It’s grounded in a sense of fixed identity, and denies the nebulous and constructed nature of categories like marriage. Seems very simplistic to me. But then we are of different tribes, and as you said you are only interested in the transcendence appropriate to your tribe.

    • a.morphous…

      Is homo-sexuality a “same sex” attraction or a “same self” attraction such that any “union” is precluded from the actual empirical practice?

      Does one plus one always equal “union?”

    • a.morphous,

      Laying out the conservative defense of marriage against moderns who start from very different premises involves the groundwork of defending natural law and demonstrating why nominalism is wrong. That’s too much for a combox, but there are plenty of places where you can find such defenses. I might suggest Edward Feser.

  8. A conservative defends established or traditional ways, full stop. There are many reasons he may do this. Platonist metaphysics is one, but so are filial piety, the wisdom of experience, and delight in making progressives angry. I personally range through all of these moods, and of course am sometimes in the mood to burn everything to the ground. I recognize that progressives are complex human beings, and that they are progressive in various ways, to various degrees, and for various reasons.

    To say that marriage is nebulous begs the question because it assumes your nebulous definition of marriage. I say marriage is a license to make babies. Making babies is not nebulous, and neither is the concept of a license. My drivers’ license is not nebulous.

    Nebulous means unformed, so it is an oxymoron to say nebulous and constructed. But there is in any case a sleight of hands when progressives use the word constructed. Some cultural constructions are complete fictions, which means they could be radically otherwise than they are. Huckleberry Finn could have been called Cactus Jack, could have crossed the Arizona Desert on a buckboard with a runaway slave called Ptolemy. Other cultural constructions are constrained by the laws of nature. Think of a truss bridge. The slight of hands is to make it seem that the engineer of a truss bridge has the same freedom as the author of Huckleberry Finn.

    It seems that you believe marriage is more like a novel, whereas I believe it is more like a truss bridge. Some novels are better than others, but at the end of the day anyone can write a novel because the definition of a novel is nebulous. And no one cares if other people waste their lives writing stupid and unreadable novels because no one is obliged to read them. Truss bridges are different because the laws of nature decide what is a truss and what is not. And of course no one wants stupid and unstable bridges because we are all obliged to cross them.

  9. By “nebulous”, I mean not sharply defined. Many categories are nebulous, that is, they denote something real but don’t put hard boundaries on what counts as a member of the class being defined, (eg “game”, Wittgenstein’s famous example).

    I like your novel/bridge metaphor. I’d say yes, for me marriage is closer to a novel than a bridge. There’s a lot of confusion about what “constructed” means in the sense of social or cultural construction. It doesn’t mean that things can be absolutely arbitrary, but it does mean that a signifiant measure of human agency is involved, and hence freedom of choice. In this sense novels and bridges are both cultural constructions, each involving designer/author/engineers who make choices according to what they are trying to do and by the constraints of their materials. Marriages too.

    • There is no “freedom of choice” inherent to homo-sexuality because exact same. In other words, a homo-sexual coupling just isn’t a “union” proper. The complimentary dynamic is null and void because homo = same = exact same = SELF. “Gay marriage” is narcissistic reinforcement.

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