Notes on Newman’s Grammar of Assent

It is a bit of a mystery that people are able to truly believe anything, since logic itself gives only conditional conclusions (“if A, then B”), and often reason fails even to go this far, but only that, given a number of premises, a certain fact is probable. The point is not that we can be mistaken in our reasoning and imagine that we have proven more than we really have, but that we can believe something while recognizing that we lack absolute proof. Some philosophers call this an error, or even a sort of moral fault, but how is it even psychologically possible? And yet, as Cardinal Newman points out, we have many such beliefs. There are common truths, such as (to take his examples) that England is an island and that I will die someday, for which I can produce strong arguments but would be impatient with a demand for absolute proof though I nonetheless assert absolute certainty. There is (another of his examples) our certitude of the law of inertia from converging probabilities: we can never find a body with absolutely zero force on it, but this is to be expected, and the better we are able to isolate a body, the better the law is found to hold, and it explains so much about our world. Newman’s goal is less to justify this sort of certitude than to describe it.

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Zippy Catholic on voting

There are many arguments why voting is wrong. Let’s focus on one. Zippy Catholic emphasized that your intention to help a particular less-evil candidate is always less significant than the ritual affirmation of liberalism you thereby perform.

Voting in mass market democratic elections is not rational if it is viewed as a procedure by which we rank public preferences for candidates and choose candidates according to that ranking.

And it is not rational as a means to oppose evil in politics through a willingness to compromise, either as an individual or as part of a group effort.

But voting is perfectly rational from the point of view of our ruling class and their ruling ideology of liberalism. Because voting is a public liturgy in which a large portion of the populace personally endorses the legitimacy of our ruling class and their ruling ideology of liberalism.

Voting is perfectly rational as ritual act of doffing your hat to the king.


Participation in mass market elections in a modern liberal democracy involves asserting your own personal influence in pursuit of some specific outcome, given the options on a preselected ballot.

Your individual influence is negligible: you can only assert meaningful influence as part of a group effort. The more influence you hope to have on an election outcome, the more you must first ignore, and then embrace and affirm, liberalism.  The objective potency of your affirmation of liberalism always vastly outweighs your objective potency in terms of determining the outcome.

So here is the iron law:

Your personal influence over modern election outcomes is proportional to, and always infinitesimal in comparison to, your personal affirmation of liberalism.

Why so worried?

Few Orthosphere readers have accused me of being overly optimistic, but I think I can relieve the anxiety of some on the Right who fear that, with the Democrats in full control of the federal government, the Left will be emboldened and significantly accelerate their crackdowns. My fellow reactionaries only have to remember what they already believe and have often said. All real power is held by some combination of the mass media, large corporations, the “permanent government” (civil service), and elite universities. Leadership in these institutions definitely has not changed hands. They can be emboldened only to the extent that they were previously restrained.

I hear that they are stepping up the expulsion of conservatives from social media. I’ve been hearing that for a long time, and I suppose it’s always true, but these media are only appropriate for short messages, which can only repeat common opinion. We reject the entire established worldview, and this cannot be fit into a tweet. A Conservative are now being expelled might actually be better off, since without Twitter and Facebook records it will be much more work for strangers to put together the case to have him or her punished in more serious ways.

It will certainly be a shame if we lose longer-form internet publications like this one. I also hear that the Left now has a more powerful justification for censorship in the need to crush “insurrection”, but this excuse seems to be of narrower potential application than the others the Left already has in its arsenal. For example, it would be much easier to make the case that the Orthosphere should be shut down and its writers lose our jobs because we are committing hate speech, creating a hostile environment, perpetuating “whiteness”, than trying to make an argument that we are plotting to overthrow the government.

I do have a strong bias toward assuming things will remain the same. It often serves me well but sometimes fails spectacularly. Still this is my guess. Things will keep getting worse for dissidents at about the same rate they have been for the past year, which unfortunately is pretty fast.

“But what should we do?”

If you spend much time on weblogs like this one, you’ll run into comments that go like this. “There’s too much talk on the dissident Right, not enough action. When are we going to start resisting? What do you propose to do? How do we fight back?”

One could reply by saying that this reverses means and ends. The impatient assume that the point of theorizing is to motivate and guide action–“not to understand the world but to change it”. We traditionalists think contemplation of God and appreciation of our inheritance are ends in themselves, some of the highest ends. However, there’s a more cogent reply, that the question is itself a retreat into fantasy and a refusal to confront the practical work that is actually before us.

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Friedrich Nietzsche as anti-prophet

What I find intolerable about the current year is the mindless, self-righteous, hysterical, ceaseless moralizing–just reading the word “justice” makes me sick. So I thought it would be a nice time for Nietzsche, and in particular reading Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals with my distinction between priestly and prophetic religion in mind. Recall, priestly religion consecrates an existing order, while prophetic religion critiques and alienates from it. Nietzsche himself does not make this distinction–he uses “priest” and “priestly” rather indiscriminately–but I think it helps clarify his writing. For example, the slave morality critiqued in the first essay of On the Genealogy of Morals is clearly not quite the same thing as the ascetic morality critiqued in the third, and these correspond roughly to prophetic and priestly modes, respectively.

What is distinctive, indeed thrilling, about Nietzsche is not that he attacks religion (that’s what’s boring and conventional about him), but where he attacks it, on the very quality that Christians and atheists agree is good and in fact argue only over who exemplifies it best. I mean, of course, the prophetic quality: “speaking truth to power”, confronting the powerful, compassion for the weak and suffering. Nietzsche sees all of this as a mask for resentment, hatred for the strong and happy, the frustrated will to power of sick, warped souls. He also points out, as we often do here, that the speakers-of-truth-to-power are themselves the power, and have been for a very long time. Nietzsche hates prophetic religion almost as much as I do.

His critique of its priestly aspects must be more subtle. The resentment of life’s losers seeks a scapegoat. The role of the “ascetic priest” is not to stoke or express this urge to blame and punish but to redirect it inward as guilt and contrition. Insofar as this inhibits outward scapegoating, Nietzsche acknowledges its usefulness, but he argues that it can never cure the losers’ spiritual sickness, but must make it worse. The will to punish and limit oneself is still an expression of the will to power, but an unhealthy one because turned inward.

The “ascetic” priestly ideal is deeper and more subtle than most realize; Nietzsche accuses scientists and atheists of espousing a particularly pure form of it insofar as they would still subordinate themselves to an objective standard of truth. Nietzsche does not believe in an absolute truth, only multiple perspectives, and the philosopher’s job is to pick–or, better, to create–one.

One might regard Friedrich Nietzsche as the first and greatest of the anti-prophetic atheists (a very small minority of atheists, but the most philosophically interesting), who, in order to resist the alienation from the world taught by the prophets, defend the world by rejecting anything that might be thought to transcend it, any outside standard that could be invoked to condemn it. The idea of eternal recurrence is a spiritual discipline–can you accept the world as it is enough to embrace the thought of it recurring forever? The atheist anti-prophets are able to be less inhibited and go farther than religious anti-prophets (meaning, primarily, Catholics); the latter don’t wish to criticize those Old Testament fanatics. In fact, the atheist anti-prophets go too far. Without standards of truth and morality that transcend–if not the world, at least us–it’s hard to see what grounds one has to object to the triumph of slave morality and its sickly, hatred-filled partisans. Have they not proven themselves stronger than the happy and noble blonde beasts and their will the more indomitable?

Cross-post: A qualitatively new level of totalitarianism

Leftism pre-2020: “People are free to run their lives and associate with each other as they please, as long as they don’t discriminate or promote hatred.”

Translation: People can form groups but cannot recognize any organizational principle except credentialism (“discrimination”) and cannot collectively embrace any belief that deviates from the Leftist consensus (“hatred”). In addition, all but tiny groups must make at least nominal efforts to achieve “diversity”. Illiberal organizations are not really permitted. However, non-ideological organizations are allowed and even encouraged, and some of these promoted genuinely valuable goods: friendly socialization, neighborhood improvement, artistic or scientific advance.

Message to white men: You will be discriminated against, but if you keep your head down and your mouth shut and you work hard enough to be unambiguously better than your diverse competition, you can achieve a comfortable life.

Leftism 2020: “Silence is violence. It’s not enough to be non-racist; you must be antiracist.”

Translation: All human groups must have as their primary purpose the exaltation of the Negro and the humiliation of the Caucasian (including the organization’s own “shameful history”). Non-ideological organizations are no longer allowed; at best, organizations are allowed to have non-ideological secondary goals.

Message to white men: Die!

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Cross-post: Religion and the restraint of morality

A common claim among religious conservatives is that morality is fundamentally grounded on religion–not necessarily on divine command, but at least on a religious worldview broadly conceived.  Atheist individuals, they grant, may be morally scrupulous, but this is because they have inherited a moral code from their residually Christian society, a code their own metaphysics cannot justify, and as this residual Christianity erodes, we can expect society to slide toward nihilism.  Atheists counter that they are more moral than religious people because religious morality is inferior–either it is unthinking bigotry and thus insufficiently rational, or it is motivated only by fear of punishment and thus insufficiently disinterested.

Neither claim matches my observations.  From what I see, atheists tend to be more passionate about moral issues than ordinary people.  Rather than being nihilists, a fairer accusation would be to say that they are themselves moralistic bigots, seeing every issue through the lens of presumed absolute evil and absolute good.  This suggests that the actual role of organized religion is not to instill moralistic zeal, but to restrain it.

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Culture is an unsolved problem

Among those who are willing to entertain hypotheses other than “systemic racism” for the woes of American blacks, pathology of black culture is an often-suggested culprit. They try to put it delicately, but the gist is that black culture is anti-intellectual, discourages responsibility and hard work, encourages its men to respond aggressively to minor perceived slights, and resists law enforcement while protecting and celebrating the criminals that prey upon it. There would be no shame in admitting to most of this, since none of it is unusual among the cultures of mankind. To give just one example, one needn’t look back very far in Western history to find many examples of whites romanticizing criminals. I think it’s pretty clearly true that such aspects of black culture do indeed impose inconvenience and suffering on the majority of blacks who are reasonably conscientious and law-abiding. Saying that black culture is whites’ fault, whether this is true or not, doesn’t change the problem or help formulate a solution.

The implied solution would be for black culture to become more like white culture. Whites have presumably figured out how to do culture. Just look at affluent liberal white neighborhoods. Low crime, encouragement to studiousness and responsibility, high civic engagement, a surfeit of compassion overflowing to third-world strangers, stray animals, anything anyone could imagine as an object of pity. Only the Jews and the Asians might be said to exceed these splendid whites; they’re just like whites, only more so. On the other hand, lower-class, rural (“racist”) conservatives are the the only group of whites blighted with a trace of black oneriness.

In fact, the white solution to culture is not as satisfactory as it superficially appears. There is a reason God cares more about the motives in mens’ hearts than outward acts, a reason Augustinians and Calvinists believe that the good works of the reprobate are only splendid vices. Notice how uncritically these same whites jump on every moral panic the media feeds them, how their infinite compassion immediately vanishes when dealing with anyone their moralistic crazes mark as a scapegoat. See how they denounce their own parents, their own children, anyone the moralistic mob turns on! How remarkable it is that they are immediately willing to credit any accusation against one of their friends that comes from a victim group. Such noble even-handedness, that any human sentiment of loyalty should be so totally alien to it! A man with only white friends has no one in the world who will give him the benefit of doubt. A room of a dozen affluent liberal whites is a room of as many spies. If black culture is “snitches get stitches” culture, white culture is snitch culture. I’m no longer shocked by the number of Germans who reported to the Stasi on their neighbors and friends–Americans are no different. At the sight of such shameless treachery one recognizes white conscientious, white civic-mindedness for what it truly is, an overriding terror of ostracism.

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