Chastek Asks a Good Question

James Chastek’s Just Thomism is one of the sites I read without fail. I like it because he teaches me lots of things. He closed comments a while ago because responding to them took up too much time. So here is what I would have commented at his blog if he still allowed comments, in response to this post:

Many of the books in the “decline of the West” genre – which was already old by the time Weaver published Ideas have Consequences in 1948 but which still sells (Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed) – tell a curious narrative of decline over very large time scales. If Nominalism or Hobbesianism were as harmful as claimed, why is the diseased host still alive a half-millennium later?

Now that’s a good question. I myself have contributed a fair bit to the literature wailing and bemoaning nominalism. How do I answer the question?

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Is Traditional Culture Even Possible Henceforth?

The acid eating at tradition is cheap information. This is to say that the acid eating away at cultures – all cultures, properly so called – is cheap information.

And information is from now on essentially free.

Can there then ever again be such a thing as a coherent traditional society?

Sure, tradition is necessary; it is the atomic stuff of culture as such. But is it even possible anymore? Are we looking at the death of culture?

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The Age of Disorientation

Electronic maps are great. Their route planning vis-à-vis current traffic conditions is terrifically handy. But I am sure I am not alone in finding that reliance upon electronic guidance for direction to destinations impairs my ability to build my own internal maps of new territory – to know where I am and find my way.

I’m pretty good at orienteering. It’s an occupational requirement for professional outdoorsmen. I know where North is almost always, and without thinking about it; and I can often find my way to a new place by the seat of my pants. I’ve trekked in the wilderness for weeks with no better map than what I could draw on the back of an envelope, and never got lost. To be fair, I’ve also found myself totally bewildered in company with three other experienced outdoorsmen equipped with good topo maps and compasses under clear skies. Too many cooks in the kitchen, perhaps.

But when I rely upon electronic guidance to get to a new destination – rather than map reading, memory, and dead reckoning – I find that *I can’t find my way there the next time without that same electronic help.* Why? Because, knowing that as I travel I can rely upon the electronic guidance to support me in my first foray, I relax my conscious attention to my environment versus my map, and turn it instead to my own thoughts of this or that. I arrive at my destination, but without a vivid memory of how I got there. It’s almost like driving a route you’ve known for years; you do it automatically, thinking of other things, and arrive with no vivid recollection of the trip. The difference of course is that when I get someplace new in that semiconscious way, *I have no clear idea where I am.* I am disoriented. I literally don’t know where East is, and must examine the shadows to calculate it.

That state of disoriented befuddlement is a fitting analogy for what is overtaking us in many departments of modern life.

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What Every Little Girl Dreams of These Days

On the train last evening I spotted – or perhaps I should say, I was assaulted by – a placard advertising a music festival. I thought: Is this what women really want for themselves? Is this supposed to be attractive?

Honestly, the woman looks like she’s being tortured. Fun!

Our Present Crisis: Daddy Issues Writ Large

The Social Justice Warriors project their own Daddy issues onto politics, because that is safer than confronting Daddy. It is also safer than confronting their anger at Daddy. And it is easier and safer than doing the hard, scary psychotherapeutic work, and indeed spiritual work – the work of growing up, at last – that is needed if they are to understand their Daddy issues the way that adults understand things, and so lay them at last to rest.

So is it that the Left are stuck in childhood. They cannot reason, but can only emote. Their essential complaint is that of the four year old, disappointed at the exigencies of family life: “It’s not fair!”

We can tell it is Daddy issues that bedevil and urge the Left, because they tell us so: they blame all the defects of life upon old white Christian men, like their fathers, and hate such men.

I wonder if there was something about the men of the Greatest Generation that particularly inclined them to failure as fathers, and so fostered the rebellion and resentment of the Boomers – especially Boomer daughters. Was it WWII? How?

My earliest memories are of a time when the horrors of WWII were only 12 years past. Literally everything of my earliest childhood was colored by that war. Its memory loomed over every tiny mundane thing. Was it that Great War – really only a codicil to WWI, despite its much greater extent, so that the two were one gigantic catastrophe in the history of civilization – that queered the West?

I hope not. I so do.

The Sorts of Liberalism Are Attempted Implementations of Nominalism

If as nominalism supposes there are no objective universals, then there are no objective truths. Then there is no objective reality. There being no objective reality, there can then be no way that one man might understand or speak of reality more truthfully than another. So there can be no such thing as authority. Authority then is ipso facto null, and wherever asserted, is false and unjust. If authority is unjust per se, then justice might be possible only under conditions of anarchy, wherein each man rules his own life absolutely, and is free to make up his mind and shape his acts in whatever way he pleases.

Nominalism carried into practice then is liberalism: the thoroughgoing rejection of authority.

There are many sorts of liberalism: political, economic, grammatical, theological, liturgical, legal, sexual, aesthetic, gastronomical, cultural, architectural, academic, and so forth. All of them are subjects of discussion here, and at other orthospherean sites. All of them have in common the rejection of all authority other than the authority that imposes upon all men the requirement that they reject authority.

The project of authoritatively imposing the rejection of authority is of course incoherent. That doesn’t stop liberals from propagating liberalism. But it does stop liberalism from ever working.

The Degenerate Bottom Revisited

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“Forever Marilyn” (2011) by John Seward (born 1930) in Palm Springs

Kristor’s recent essay, “The Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom,” reminded its readers of the downward or subscendent trend of aesthetics under the by now longstanding regime of liberal modernity.  Recently also JM Smith made reference in one of his Orthosphere entries to Billy Wilder’s film The Seven-Year Itch (1955), starring among others Marilyn Monroe. Miss Monroe is my topic. In a state of heightened awareness after reading Kristor and JM (if “heightened” were the word, which it is likely not), I was quick to notice that the cultural mudslide in whose beginnings Miss Monroe participated — in various ways — is still prone to feature her prominently, as though honoring its own inception (if “inception” were the word, which it is likely not).

John Seward Johnson II, a.k.a. John Seward (born 1930), is a sculptor apparently well-known to the art-world, but hitherto unknown to me. Johnson created his twenty-six-foot tall bronze statue of Monroe in 2011, basing it on the skirt-lifting scene from Wilder’s film, where Monroe stands over a grate in the sidewalk. The statue, which resembles Seward’s other work, all of which looks like it was intended for audioanimatronic display at one of the Disney parks, originally stood in Palm Springs, but has recently gone on tour to Stamford, Connecticut, where it is spending the summer.

The sculpture’s painted garishness no doubt accords itself with the prim sleaziness of Palm Springs, which I would describe as Las Vegas without the casinos but with at least as many cocktail waitresses, pole-dancers, and call-girls. When one thinks of primly sleazy places, however, one hardly thinks of Stamford.

The photograph below shows “Forever Marilyn” from a frontal perspective. —

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“Forever Marilyn” in Stamford (Angle 1)

The photograph that I have placed below the “continue reading” toggle again shows “Forever Marilyn” frontally but from a different and revealing angle. —

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Libertarianism Presupposes the Absence of Any Common Cult

In a libertarian society, everyone agrees to disagree, and to leave each other alone in their disagreements. It would not be important that people should leave each other pretty much alone, so that each might go his own way as he saw fit, unless they had no cult in common, that brought them naturally to agreement about how best to live life. The purely libertarian society is the zero of commensality, and of ecclesiality. There is in the purely libertarian society no gathering, no agora; for, even the disputations of the agora presupposed a basic patriotism under the bonds of extended familiarity.

Libertarianism then is identity politics reduced to its limit: the individual. In the purely libertarian society, every man is a faction. Libertarianism is a cease fire in a Hobbesian war of all against all.

But it is at best a cease fire; the war continues, and threatens ever to boil over.

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Divorce: Symptom of a Profound Psychopathological Reproductive Disorder

Divorce is a gesture that implements and urges demographic and political suicide. It is an expression of self-hatred; of the will to delete the patrimony inherent in oneself, and to prevent people such as oneself from peopling the future.

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Over the Line

We live in a time of universal outrage. Everybody is angry with somebody for overstepping the bounds of decent behavior, but nobody can agree just where these bounds might lie. There is a good deal of finger wagging and tongue clucking, but very little in the way of shame.

To commit an outrage is to overstep bounds, for the word comes to us from the French outré (meaning excessive) and the Latin ultra (meaning beyond).  It is an accident of etymology that the word seems to indicate a feeling of rage, although raging against outrages is common enough, and convention permits us to say we are outraged by the outrageous. Continue reading