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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On the conservative quarrel with reason

Left-liberalism is the ideology of the elite, and the inculcation of its doctrines is what is regarded as education, so of course liberals are on average smarter, better behaved, richer, more industrious, fitter, and more sexually attractive than conservatives. Failure to conform is almost always a sign of defect; almost never a sign of being more perceptive than one’s host society. However, when liberals say that conservatives are hostile to reason, they are making a more interesting claim, one about the role of public reason in our system compared to theirs.

Unfortunately, there have been few first-rate conservative epistemologists, and some, like Burke and Maistre, have spoken rather too sweepingly on this matter, so liberals cannot be blamed for any inaccurate conclusions on our attitude toward reason. We should admit that, while reason has a role in conservative governance, it is more subordinate than in liberal governance. We really do have a lower estimation of man’s ability to deduce principles of social justice from a priori reasoning. In this sense, conservatism is anti-reason in the same way that empirical science is anti-reason. Just as scientific reasoning begins from observations about the world and may not appeal to a priori reasoning to demand the data be different, so conservative moral reasoning begins with inherited practices and may not appeal to a priori reasoning to demand an overthrow of tradition.

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Question to readers

Books of a certain persuasion are being purged and are getting harder to acquire. I notice, for example, that two books that I own, The Camp of the Saints and The Culture of Critique, are no longer carried by Amazon. Are there any books that you are thinking you’d better buy very soon if you ever hope to read them? Anything you’d recommend I buy a copy of while I still can? For example, when I first noticed this, it seemed likely that pro-confederate books would be disappearing first, so I bought my own copy of the Southern Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand, which I had read and appreciated many years ago. I don’t particularly feel like re-reading it, but it’s nice to know that now I’ll always be able to.

Toward a pious reception of Fratelli Tutti

On a first reading, Pope Francis’ new encyclical is a disgrace, an incoherent mess of cliches, undefined terms, libelous mischaracterization of political opponents, and apparent contradictions.  Naturally, as a loyal son of the Church, I wish for everyone to receive the words of the Holy Father with gratitude and docility, so I would entreat everyone when reading this statement of the Vicar of Christ to be mindful of the pope’s distinctive mode of communication.

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Skirmishes between the two cultures in an anti-intellectual age

The two cultures are, of course, those identified by C. P. Snow half a century ago:  the humanities and the sciences.  A lament of Snow and others is that the practitioners of these cultures are drifting apart, making an integrated intellectual life impossible.  There are worse things than ignoring each other, though.  Resources are finite, and status is always a zero-sum game, so competition and fighting are to be expected.  Snow himself thought English universities favored the humanities too heavily; proposals for reconciliation are usually to be on one party’s terms or the other’s, with a corresponding adjustment of relative status.

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Cross-post: a question of expertise

This recent post by Professor Cocks relates to something I wrote recently at Throne and Altar.

Contemporary society is unofficially organized by two principles.

  1. Authority, competence, and trustworthiness is established solely through the possession of credentials testifying to a relevant education and training.
  2. Ultimate authority over the entire social order belongs to the media, which adjudicates social status of both individuals and groups and tells people what their opinions on all matters of the day should be.

These two principles are not obviously in harmony.  What training do opinion journalists have to justify their vast power?  What credentialing process qualifies one to be a philosopher king?

The question will probably strike readers, as it would have struck Plato, as grotesque.  Surely the qualification to be a philosopher king, or more generally to have one’s opinions on all subjects taken seriously, is wisdom, something more likely to come from hard experience than from any university degree.  That’s not the point though.  The point is, if you were on board with the program of the modern world, you would respect only credentialed expertise.  You would also read the New York Times religiously and believe whatever you read there.  However, it is quite doubtful that the writers at the Times can boast any expertise that would justify such credulity.

We could easily look up the degrees and academic publication history of the writers at the major journals.  Some would be impressive, although I expect most wouldn’t be.  However, as soon as one poses the question, one realizes that no list of degrees would justify the obeisance these journals receive.

The Times and other big newspapers could claim expertise as journalists.  It’s what some of their employees were trained in, and they have interviewed their subjects and thus have the “expertise of direct witness” to report what they’ve seen and heard.  If they were humble newsmen just reporting what they’ve seen and heard, this would be enough.  But they also endorse political movements and candidates, propose an authoritative interpretation of American history, declare scientific hypotheses off limits, and in many other ways behave as if possessed of a universal competence of judgment.

Amusingly, one of the things they do with this universal competence is ridicule people who defy expert opinion.  Only experts are qualified to have opinions according to the most influential people, who have no relevant expertise on most of the subjects they write on.

The liberals’ dilemma

At Quillette, Yoram Hazony concludes an excellent article with

Marxists will not be appeased because what they’re after is the conquest of liberalism itself—already happening as they persuade liberals to abandon their traditional two-party conception of political legitimacy, and with it their commitment to a democratic regime. The collapse of the bonds of mutual legitimacy that have tied liberals to conservatives in a democratic system of government will not make the liberals in question Marxists quite yet. But it will make them the supine lackeys of these Marxists, without the power to resist anything that “Progressives” and “Anti-Racists” designate as being important. And it will get them accustomed to the coming one-party regime, in which liberals will have a splendid role to play—if they are willing to give up their liberalism.

I know that many liberals are confused, and that they still suppose there are various alternatives before them. But it isn’t true. At this point, most of the alternatives that existed a few years ago are gone. Liberals will have to choose between two alternatives: either they will submit to the Marxists, and help them bring democracy in America to an end. Or they will assemble a pro-democracy alliance with conservatives. There aren’t any other choices.

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freedom to speak literally

For a while, when I saw another article claiming that such-and-such famous artist, writer, or scientist was actually a horrible reactionary, I would post a link at Throne and Altar with almost no commentary, and a title like “one more for the deplorables”.  The ongoing joke was, of course, that eventually it would occur to these censorious Leftists that they were raising the status of their enemies.  At the New York Times, Professor Agnes Callard points out that Aristotle is really very deeply inegalitarian.  Another for my series?  Thankfully, it turns out not.  Professor Callard makes some very good points about the current climate, in which (as we have had occasion to point out) speech acts are more often intended as demonstrations of virtue than expressions of truth.

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Do not surrender your body carelessly.

They found Lucretia sitting in her chamber, melancholy and dejected: on the arrival of her friends, she burst into tears, and on her husband’s asking, “Is all well?” “Far from it,” said she, “for how can it be well with a woman who has lost her chastity? Collatinus, the impression of another man is in your bed; yet my person only has been violated, my mind is guiltless, as my death will testify. But give me your right hands and pledge your honour, that the adulterer shall not escape unpunished. He is Sextus Tarquinius, who, under the appearance of a guest, disguising an enemy, obtained here, last night, by armed violence, a triumph deadly to me, and to himself also, if ye be men.” They all pledged their honour, one after another, and endeavoured to comfort her distracted mind, acquitting her of blame, as under the compulsion of force, and charging it on the violent perpetrator of the crime, told her, that “the mind alone was capable of sinning, not the body, and that where there was no such intention, there could be no guilt.” “It is your concern,” said she, “to consider what is due to him; as to me, though I acquit myself of the guilt, I cannot dispense with the penalty, nor shall any woman ever plead the example of Lucretia, for surviving her chastity.” Thus saying, she plunged into her heart a knife, which she had concealed under her garment, and falling forward on the wound, dropped lifeless. The husband and father shrieked aloud.

What Lucretia knew is that there is no self hovering aloof from the body; we are our bodies, and to violate the body is to violate the person, mental guilt or not.  Such is the unique horror of rape. Continue reading