Thursday, February 22, 2018

The future is....?

What happens if you believe, as liberals do, that our sex should be made not to matter? You get a "rising star" in the Liberal Party, Senator Linda Reynolds, calling for elite sports like AFL and rugby league to be "desegregated," so that women play alongside men.

There is a certain kind of wishfulness or hopefulness in this kind of thinking. It reminds me of the Russian Bolshevik, Alexandra Kollontai, who gave public lectures in which she longed,
for the female body itself to become less soft and curvy and more muscular ... She argues that prehistoric women were physiologically less distinct from men ... Accordingly, sexual dimorphism may (and should) again become less visible in a communist society.

The idea that our inborn sex should not define us has led to an odd situation. The assumption is that women are now being "empowered" to enter masculine spaces. And so you get "go girl" slogans like the one I spotted on a shoe shop window at a local shopping centre:


But, at the very same time, the emphasis on unisexism is dissolving the notion of the female. Just as Kollontai, a century ago, hoped that the female body would change into something more like a male one, the modernist expectation is that women will be raised to be more like men. In their social function, men and women are expected by liberals, ideally, to be indistinguishable or interchangeable.

That's partly why the slogan "the future is female" is incoherent. In the unlikely event that the liberal West survives, the future is women in pantsuits doing much the same thing that men do.

It won't be difficult for a traditionalist community to set itself apart. Imagine how different it would be in a community in which men and women were encouraged to cultivate masculine and feminine virtues; in which men and women connected distinct and complementary roles to the fulfilment of their created natures and to the good of family and community; and in which our higher nature was felt, profoundly, to be connected to the expression of our manhood and womanhood.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Harvard letter

One of the flaws of liberalism is what you might call the "autonomy contradiction". There is a problem in making autonomy - a freedom to choose according to my subjective wants - the highest good. What if my want is a non-autonomous good? Liberalism then either has to accept the fact that I choose other than autonomy or it has to limit my autonomy and prevent me from choosing this good. In the end, liberalism is likely to reach a point at which it says "you can choose anything you want, as long as you choose liberal autonomy" - which is not very "autonomous" at all.

There was an example of this last year when Harvard University acted to restrict students from joining single sex fraternities and sororities. These organisations are not even university groups, but are off campus private associations. Even so, the Harvard authorities decided to punish students who are members of these groups by limiting their leadership and scholarship opportunities.

The fact that Harvard liberals dislike single sex groups is not surprising. If what matters is that we are autonomously self-determined, then liberals have to make our sex not matter, as that is something that is predetermined. If sex is something that is not allowed to matter, then it will be thought wrong to discriminate on the basis of sex (in the literal sense of the word "discriminate" - the ideal will be a situation in which people won't make distinctions between men and women, particularly in a social context). There will be a fear that if there is any discrimination, such as the existence of single sex clubs, that it might lead to a discrepancy in life paths or life outcomes ("inequality").

And so the Harvard authorities found themselves facing the autonomy contradiction. They want to get rid of single sex clubs as part of the larger liberal ideal of abolishing sex distinctions. On the other hand, they preach a mantra of autonomous choice, by which students should be allowed to choose according to their own subjective preferences.

How did Harvard deal with the contradiction? In a number of ways. First, the authorities have given the single sex clubs time to change into unisex groups. According to Harvard, this means that students have been given "choice and agency" in leading the changes:
at least as an initial step, we should proceed in such a way as to give students both choice and agency in bringing about changes to the campus culture.

The choice to belong to a fraternity is being taken away, but students get to be involved in the process of choice being taken away and this is supposed to uphold their "choice and agency".

Another response to the contradiction is this:
Ultimately, students have the freedom to decide which is more important to them: membership in a gender-discriminatory organization or access to those privileges and resources. The process of making those types of judgments, the struggle of defining oneself, one’s identity, and one’s responsibilities to a broader community, is a valuable part of the personal growth and self-exploration we seek for our undergraduates.

The Harvard authorities are claiming that autonomy still exists because students get to choose between fraternities or sanctions, and that in being placed in this dilemma students have to define who they are. Someone went to a lot of trouble to think this up, which shows how keen the authorities are to try to retain a belief that they are not trashing their liberal ideal of autonomy in seeking to ban private association.

The final response to the contradiction is to admit that there is a contradiction:
Preserving choice and agency also honors the thoughtful concerns we have heard expressed about the need to balance competing interests wherever possible. The tensions between freedom and equality, between the rights of the individual and the welfare of the community have long challenged American society and have been the focus of much of the USGSO debate. As a professor of history noted in last October’s Faculty meeting, “the freedom of association enjoyed by some of our students comes at the cost of excluding the majority of our students from those associations.”

The last line is an eye opener. I would have thought that freedom of association necessarily involves "excluding the majority". Harvard University itself necessarily excludes the majority. So does an association of artists in Bavaria. Or an association of Dalmation owners. Or a Mormon mothers' club. Do we really begrudge the existence of associations that we ourselves can't be included in? To get to the point of inclusiveness desired by the professor of history, you would have to considerably erase the distinctions between people. Liberalism in this sense requires less, rather than more, diversity.

I'll leave the Harvard authorities there, struggling to reconcile the principle of autonomy which simultaneously requires them to ban single sex clubs and uphold choice and self-determination.

The traditionalist stance on this issue is relatively straightforward. If you do not start out with the same assumptions that liberals do, you will not have the goal of making our sex not matter. If you are not intent on erasing the distinctions between men and women, you will then be relaxed about the natural inclinations that men and women have to enjoy masculine or feminine social environments.

Traditionalists see the unfolding of our masculinity and femininity as significant aspects of our identity and of our life purposes. It therefore makes sense to create masculine and feminine spaces, as a means of cultivating this aspect of who we are and of encouraging our self-development.

Fraternities in particular are potentially valuable in creating a space in which the masculine virtues can be cultivated (though there needs to be a certain focus to such groups for this to happen). It is within a male group, particularly one that is dedicated to a significant aim, that qualities like loyalty, courage and honour tend to take hold.

So for traditionalists the general aim is to have more, rather than fewer, single sex social spaces.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Identitarians reach Britain

A video from the new British section of the Identitarian movement:

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Lauren Rose: defining the nation

The short video below is well worth watching. Lauren Rose does an excellent job in clarifying what nationalism is and is not:



Lauren makes clear that the term "civic nationalism" does not really make sense. It would be more accurate to call it something like "civicism" or "civic statism" or "the civic values state". However, for the time being I will still use it at times in order to draw a distinction with "ethnic nationalism", which, as Lauren points out, is a redundant term, as the nation and the ethny are the same thing.

One final point. I would love one day to be able to invite intelligent trads like Lauren Rose to tour Australia. Although we have a solid group here in Melbourne, we still need to grow a little to make this a reality. So I encourage interested Melbourne readers to consider supporting the Melbourne Traditionalists - you can visit out website for more information here.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Estonia & the Blue Awakening

A reader sent me a link to a story about the expulsion of an Estonian youth group, Blue Awakening, from the European Young Conservatives.

In brief, the story runs as follows. The European Young Conservatives (EYC) is a group of 26 political youth groups drawn from the centre-right in Europe. One of these was Blue Awakening, the youth group of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).

Blue Awakening sent a letter to the EYC critical of its direction and was expelled, with the EYC explaining its decision as follows:
"You may have gotten the wrong impression regarding our views," the EYC told Blue Awakening. "We are the youth organization of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, which means that our primary goal is to propagate the free market and classical liberal values in Europe. Some of our members have the right to maintain conservative views, but we are not a nationalist organization and we do not aim to preserve Europe's ethnic identity."
So there you have it. An alliance of "conservatives" sees its primary goal as promoting "the free market and classical liberal values." The founder of Blue Awakening rightly replied that, "True conservatism...is something completely different from classical liberalism."

If you go by the letter, the EYC is "conservative" only in the sense that it wants to conserve the classical liberal tradition, rather than the distinct peoples of Europe.

I had a quick look at EKRE, the Estonian party that Blue Awakening is affiliated with. Its policies and philosophy seem to be aligned with traditionalism. At its founding in 2012, the party declared:
No political party in the parliament represents the Estonian people, our national interest or traditional values. The government acts on right- and left liberal, also socialist ideas that our countrymen are simply statistical units or taxpayers, consumers at best. It is not far right or far left, just ultra-liberalism. The Conservative People's Party gives a solution to the voters who are sick of forced choice between Ansip and Savisaar, East and West, left and right.

That's very well put. EKRE has grown to have seven seats in parliament - I will watch its future development with much interest.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Camberwell vs Fitzroy: who wins?

This is an unusual post for me: more social observation than anything else.

I recently visited two very different suburbs of Melbourne, Fitzroy and Camberwell. Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, is the heartland of the liberal left in Melbourne. It is an inner suburban area that generally votes Green.

Walking along Fitzroy Street at night, I was struck by a number of things. As expected, there were leftist political slogans around me, in particular, radical "Invasion Day" posters (this was in the lead up to Australia Day). But there were some surprising things too. Although there were plenty of multicultural restaurants, the area was a lot more Anglo than other areas of Melbourne, and predominantly young Anglo. There were a lot of young Anglo couples promenading in the street.

Most surprising of all, given I was in a leftist heartland, I have never before seen women dressed in such a feminine style, not even in photos I've seen of the 1950s. The women were leaning romantically into their boyfriends as they walked along, arms entwined.

And the area itself, despite housing commission high-rises nearby, has a very traditional flavour. It's like walking into a beautiful slice of the 1880s. There are hardly any modernist intrusions.

Lawrence Auster often used to write about liberals having to resort to "unprincipled exceptions" because living strictly according to liberal principles would be unworkable. But what I observed in Brunswick Street was more than an unprincipled exception, it was a divorce between politics and lifestyle.

These are leftists who call themselves "Green" but who live in the inner city; who believe that there are 159 sexes and that femininity is an oppressive construct, but whose women clearly aim to be feminine and attractive; who support multiculturalism and oppose whiteness, but who live in an Anglo enclave; and who support modernism in all its forms, but who live surrounded by traditional architectural beauty.

And it seems to be working for them. There was an atmosphere of cultural confidence - a way of life in full swing.

You would think that there would be a great deal of cognitive dissonance, i.e. that they would struggle to reconcile the differences between their political ideals and their way of life. Apparently, though, they are happy to play a game, where it is understood that it is progressive to hold to a certain set of beliefs whilst holding things together by embracing aspects of traditionalism more fully than traditionalists manage to do.

So I don't think we can write off the Anglo left just yet. The lifestyle is still alive, even at a time when white leftists are being instructed by their fellow leftists to "sit down, shut up and listen" and when white males are increasingly targeted on the left as privileged oppressors.

My impression of Camberwell was very different. This is part of the heartland of  right liberalism in Melbourne, part of a belt of suburbs from which Liberal Party prime ministers and ministers were often drawn.

I had more of a sense of a way of life being extinguished. The demographics have changed, particularly amongst the under 50s. Curiously the young Anglo men, who in theory have everything going for them (well educated, good career prospects, handsome etc.) seem to have rejected Anglo women en masse. And, although you wouldn't expect the area to be humming on a Sunday at midday compared to an inner city precinct at night, people seemed subdued - more drawn into themselves.

I'm looking in from the outside, so I might be wrong, but there seems to be more disruption or dislocation among young Anglos in the right liberal areas compared to the left liberal ones (when I had expected the opposite to be true).

Fitzroy seems to be winning.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Jeanine's story

This video really brings home the plight of the white farmers of South Africa.

Tucker Carlson: America is not an idea

It doesn't get much better than this in the mainstream media. Tucker Carlson, on his Fox News show, took Senator Lindsey Graham to task for claiming that "America is an idea...not defined by its people but by its ideals."

Carlson rightly focused on the logic of this statement: that it means that the existing population does not constitute America, not by its efforts, talents or history, but that it can be swapped or replaced with little effect on what America is thought to be - a demoralising concept of nationhood.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Why did Birzer get borders wrong?

I'd like to return to the topic of Bradley Birzer. If you recall from my recent post, he is the American conservative who called, in the most stringent terms, for open borders:
Even the most cursory examination of the issue reveals that the best of western thinkers have considered political borders a form of selfish insanity and a violation of the dignity of the human person. The free movement of peoples has not only been seen as a natural right throughout much of the western tradition, but it has also been seen as a sacred one.

I don't want to focus on rebutting his specific claims as I did this in my last post, and others have done the same thing admirably well. What needs to be addressed is why Birzer would come to adopt this stance. Rather than being a stock standard right or left liberal, Birzer is a professional Burkean/Kirkean conservative:
Bradley J. Birzer is the president of the American Ideas Institute, which publishes The American Conservative. He holds the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and is Professor of History at Hillsdale College. He served as the second Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy at Colorado University–Boulder and is the author or editor of seven books, including Russell Kirk: American Conservative and J.R.R Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth. He has written and taught extensively on the American experience, focusing mostly on the period from the American Revolution through Reconstruction. Birzer is also editor at large and co-founder of The Imaginative Conservative.

In spite of a lifetime's service to Burkean conservatism, he has endorsed a policy that is more radically dissolving of society than the political positions held by a fair proportion of liberals. It is such an extraordinary outcome that we need to ask seriously what might have pushed things the wrong way.

I can think of several reasons, though I suspect the last in the list is the real culprit.

1. Burkean conservatism

Burke wanted to defend the existing culture and institutions of his time from modernist ideologies, particularly those associated with the French Revolution. And so he stressed the idea of accepting accumulated wisdom rather than following specific philosophies.

The late Lawrence Auster argued that the influence of Burkean conservatism was a flaw in American conservatism, as it only worked when the inherited tradition was a non-liberal one. Once liberalism starts to predominate in a culture, then Burkean conservatives will begin to defend that as the accumulated tradition:
As I’ve said many times, that’s the problem with Burke, as well as with Kirk, who was a Burkean. Burkean conservatism only works in a society that has an intact tradition to appeal to; in a society that has already been radicalized, Burkeanism merely accommodates conservatives to radicalism. This is why a conservatism is needed that doesn’t just appeal to “the way things are” (which may already be radicalized) but to “the way things ought to be”—to principles and values that may be lost at present and need to be brought back.

A traditionalist conservatism, it is true, can't be grounded on a simplistic ideology, but that doesn't mean that an alternative anthropology cannot be given voice to. After all, we are trying to give order to truths about man and reality: if we do not articulate these, because we think they will emerge by themselves over time within a community, then we fail to give any direction or coherence to conservatism - it become more difficult to hold to consistent political principles.

2. Anti-statism

Birzer appears to be part of a political stream that emphasises localism as opposed to centralism. I'm sympathetic to this outlook, not least because it gives the average man a polis in which to exercise his commitments to community (and in doing so more fully complete his nature).

I'm speculating, but it is possible that someone who conceives of politics too much as localism against centralism might not then give high regard to the role of a central state in upholding borders.

3. Christian theo-ideology

If I had to guess, I would say that this is the real reason for Birzer's hostility to borders. There are many Christians now who take one aspect of their religion (universal love) and apply the logic of this in a simplistic and abstracted way, so that Christian theology comes to resemble the workings of a secular ideology (hence the term "theo-ideology").

It's not that they are wholly wrong in what they claim. They argue that we are all made in God's image and therefore, for the sake of God, we should have a regard for others, even for the stranger.

But what happens next is crucial. You can either assert or deny that this then dissolves all particular loyalties, loves, duties, identities and attachments.

There are Christians who do assert this, often using a passage from Paul to support their case.

But if what they argued was true, then the particular loves and duties we have to spouse and children would no longer hold: those for the stranger would be equal or greater in significance. But this is both unworkable and un-Biblical.

The Catholic Church, until recent times at least, affirmed the particular loves and duties. From the duty of a Christian knight to defend his homeland; to the "ordo caritatis" which gave precedence in our duties to spouse and children; to the calls of the medieval Popes for crusades; and to the edicts of popes affirming the good of patriotism.

If, on the other hand, you believe that caritas means dissolving particular loves and loyalties, and no longer making distinctions between people, then Christianity itself won't survive as a mainstream religion. It will lead Christian nations to have open borders, so that the demographics shift to other religions. You can see how Christianity has rapidly declined in parts of the Middle East over the past century to get a sense of how a religion can be displaced from areas it was once deeply embedded in.

If readers have other explanations for why Birzer, with his impeccable Burkean credentials, might have adopted such a radical stance on immigration, I'd be interested to hear them.

Monday, January 22, 2018

New website & next meeting

I've created a new website for the Melbourne Traditionalists (see here). It's purpose is not to have regularly updated content, but to be an information site for new people who might be interested in getting involved.

The next gathering is happening early next month, so if any readers are interested I encourage them to visit the site and to get in touch.

There is also information at the site about a new initiative Mark Moncrieff of the Upon Hope blog and I are trying out. There are numbers of people in Melbourne who are sympathetic to the dissident right but perhaps not supportive of all aspects of a traditionalist politics. We're organising a Melbourne Right Forum, which will meet in the similar way to the Melbourne Traditionalists, but be broader politically.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Open borders & individual dignity

There is an article over at The American Conservative by Bradley Birzer which attempts to make a conservative case for open borders. Birzer doesn't hold back in the type of language he uses:
As a professor of the western canon, the Great Ideas of the West, and the western tradition, I find it nearly impossible to claim that there is a long tradition of excluding those who “aren’t us.” Even the most cursory examination of the issue reveals that the best of western thinkers have considered political borders a form of selfish insanity and a violation of the dignity of the human person. The free movement of peoples has not only been seen as a natural right throughout much of the western tradition, but it has also been seen as a sacred one.

Fighting words. Birzer claims that it is "selfish insanity and a violation of the dignity of the human person" to oppose the "free movement of peoples."

I'll get to the historical evidence in a moment. What I'd like to focus on first is the lack of seriousness of a politics that claims that open borders will do anything for the dignity of Western individuals.

Look around. We see a rainbow coalition formed in opposition to white men. The politics of the rainbow coalition is based on the idea that white men exist to oppress others to uphold an unearned privilege. Therefore, the rainbow coalition holds that the culture and historic institutions created by white men are racist and need to be torn down. The future role of white men is not to advance opinions of their own, but to quietly validate the experience of others, even when this experience claims that white men are the source of evil in the world.

This rainbow coalition grows through open borders and it is not that far from seizing power permanently in the U.S. If it does seize power permanently then you can forget about upholding "the western canon, the Great Ideas of the West, and the western tradition" - these will be condemned as racist artifacts that must be deconstructed to create a safer space for the new majority in power. Nor will there be much "dignity of the human person" for white men in this new society created by open borders. Vilified as racist oppressors; expected to obsequiously follow the dictates of those now in power; not permitted to speak freely from their own point of view, faced with a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation in trying to win an accepted place in the new order, white men will most likely want to flee - but to where?

South Africa is another example of the loss of individual dignity that occurs when one group becomes a minority and then loses state power. There is now an employment system in South Africa that puts white men at the bottom, leading to the emergence of significant poverty among groups of white South Africans. Thousands of white farmers have been murdered, sometimes tortured in the process; one recent disturbing photo appears to show military equipment being used during a farm attack. There are South African politicians who have advocated "killing the Boer."

Is it really wise to wish to become a minority and to lose state power? Does this really extend your dignity as an individual? I don't think the serious answer is the "yes" that Birzer claims. If it were, I doubt if hundreds of thousands of white South Africans would have chosen emigration (exile) as a solution to their conditions of life.

One final point before delving into history. Birzer is wrong too about the relationship between the individual and his place within an ethnic collective. If you wish to support the individual (and his dignity), then you need also to uphold the existence of his "ethny" - which means establishing borders. Why?

An ethny is a group of people to whom the individual is closely related in terms of ancestry, culture, religion, language, history, manners and mores, and way of life. It is through membership of an ethny that the individual derives a deeper sense of identity; of belonging; of love of and attachment to a particular place (connectedness to land and landscape); deeper and more stable family commitments; a connection to both the past and the future (to the generations that went before and a sense of responsiblity to coming generations); and a determination to uphold the best of his own tradition, whether this be in terms of moral standards, of masculinity (or femininity), or of the arts and architecture. In short, an ethny is the vehicle by which an individual attempts to reproduce the best of himself and his tradition; by which he finds the deepest social commitments; and by which he finds himself connected across time and in place to something meaningful. A deracinated individual, in contrast, loses the larger setting in which he might most deeply complete himself. To be careless with borders does not, therefore, add to the dignity or flourishing of the individual.

Ancient Greece

I can't in a post like this reply at length to Birzer's claims about past attitudes to open borders. I can, though, show that things are not as straightforward as Birzer claims them to be.

Here is Birzer on Ancient Greece:
The Athenians, during the tumultuous fifth century before Christ, prided themselves on allowing not just the stranger into their communities, but also their very enemies in.

It is true that the Athenians are known to have been the most cosmopolitan of the Ancient Greeks. But Birzer is giving a one-sided account of things here. For instance, it was during the very century mentioned by Birzer that the famous Athenian leader Pericles changed the citizenship laws. Previously, an Athenian man could marry a wealthy foreign wife and their children would be considered citizens. Pericles toughened the law in 451 B.C. so that both parents had to be Athenians for the children to have citizenship rights.

There were considerable numbers of foreigners living in Athens, called "metics", but they were not citizens. They came from other Greek speaking areas, and so were not as foreign as those from further abroad, but nonetheless they were not granted citizenship rights:
Regardless of how many generations of the family had lived in the city, metics did not become citizens unless the city chose to bestow citizenship on them as a gift. This was rarely done...

Metics typically shared the burdens of citizenship without any of its privileges. Like citizens, they had to perform military service and, if wealthy enough, were subject to the special tax contributions and tax services...They were not permitted to own real estate in Attica, whether farm or house, unless granted a special exemption. Neither could they contract with the state to work the silver mines, since the wealth beneath the earth was felt to belong to the political community. Metics were subject to a tax called the metoikion, assessed at twelve drachmas per year for metic men and their households, and six for independent metic women. In addition to the metoikion, non-Athenians wishing to sell goods in the agora, including metics, seem to have been liable to another tax known as the xenika.

The other class of foreigners living in Ancient Athens were slaves. In the fifth century before Christ, when Birzer portrays the Athenians as standing proudly for open borders, the Athenians invaded a Greek Island called Melos. The residents were told that "might is right" and that they were to be conquered. There was a one-sided battle, the Athenians won and afterwards they slaughtered the male residents of the island and took the women and the children as slaves.

It doesn't seem wise, therefore, for Birzer to portray the Athenians of this period as upholding "the dignity of the individual" via open borders. Athens was an imperial power, ignoring borders and taking slaves, who would then make up part of the foreign population living in Athens.

And the rest of Ancient Greece? In some places, there were most certainly borders:
In other Greek cities, foreign residents were few, with the exception of cosmopolitan Corinth, of which however we do not know their legal status. In Sparta and Crete, as a general rule with few exceptions, foreigners were not allowed to stay.

Medieval Europe

Birzer also cites the Magna Carta as evidence of a tradition of the free movement of peoples in the West. It is certainly true that there is a section of the Magna Carta that aims to guarantee the right of merchants, except in times of war, to freely travel between countries.

I am no expert in the history of the Magna Carta, but one historian has warned against interpreting this section as being motivated by a philosophical support for open borders:
The 1914 editor McKechnie warns modern readers not to read back into the past, political and economic ideas which they might hold in the present. In this case, free trade ideas which were still quite strong in Edwardian England. What seems to have happened with many clauses in Magna Carta, was that grants of privilege to specific individuals and groups were later broadened into more general “privileges” or what became known as “rights” to later generations. Here is what he said concerning clause 40: “It has been not unusual to credit the framers of Magna Carta with a policy of quite a modern flavour; they are made free–traders and credited with a knowledge of economic principles far in advance of their contemporaries. This is a misconception: Englishmen in the thirteenth century had formulated no far–reaching theories of the rights of the consumer, or the policy of the open door. The home traders were not consenting parties to this chapter, and would have bitterly resented any attempt to place foreigners on an equal footing with the protected guilds of the English boroughs. The barons acted on their own initiative and from purely selfish motives. Rich nobles, lay and ecclesiastic, desired that nothing should prevent the foreign merchants from importing wines and rich apparel that England could not produce. John, indeed, as a consumer of continental luxuries, partially shared their views, but his selfish policy threatened to strangle foreign trade by increasing the burdens attached to it, until it ceased to be remunerative. The barons, therefore, in their own interests, not in those of foreign merchants, still less in those of native traders, demanded that the customs duties should remain at their old fixed rates. In adopting this attitude, they showed their selfish indifference to the equally selfish claims of English traders, who desired a monopoly for themselves. Every favour shown to foreign merchants was an injury done to the guilds of the chartered boroughs. This chapter thus shows a lack of gratitude on the barons’ part for the great service rendered by their allies, the citizens of London.”

It has to be remembered, too, that the movement of people was generally limited at this time in history, so that it did not threaten the existence of established communities as it might do today. For instance, in 1440 the English parliament decided to place a special tax on foreigners and so created a register of all those born outside of England. There were about 20,000 such foreigners, about one percent of the population. Most of them were from nearby areas, such as Scotland, Ireland, Flanders, France and Germany.

In these conditions, stringent border controls may not have seemed necessary. Even so, there was no commitment to an absolute free movement of peoples. For instance, in 1290 King Edward I expelled all Jews from England, an edict which remained in place for the rest of the Middle Ages. In a later era, Queen Elizabeth I (with less effect) ordered all "blackamoores" to be deported from England.

Christendom

Finally, Birzer also argues that medieval Europeans saw themselves as belonging to Christendom, to a Christian republic, and that this dissolved a sense of the differences between people.

I don't doubt that the notion of Christendom was important to medieval Europeans. It's a long stretch, though, to argue that medieval Europeans only had an abstracted Christian identity, rather than combining their Christianity with their sense of belonging to particular communities.

For instance, the English early on adopted and venerated national saints, in particular, Edmund and Edward:
Throughout the years 1100-1400 these English royal saints continued to be an expression of both royal and national identity...Depictions of Edward and Edmund in paintings, illuminated manuscripts and other media were common. Their Englishness was no bar to their veneration by Norman and Angevin rulers whose horizons and ancestry were largely French. Henry III of England (1216-72), whose four grandparents had all been born in France, nevertheless had a deep devotion to St Edward the Confessor, rebuilding the abbey church of Westminster around his shrine, translating his bones to a grand new shrine and naming his eldest son Edward (and his second son Edmund). In this way these Anglo-Saxon personal names, which had been eclipsed after the Norman Conquest, re-entered the lexicon of high-status names.
England thus had revered and long-established native saints.

Similarly, the Christian knight was supposed to defend both the Church and his homeland. Peter of Blois, a twelfth century cleric, wrote a letter describing the knightly ideal as follows:
In former days, the knights pledged themselves by the bond of oath to stand up for public order, not to flee in battle, and to give their life for the common good. Even today the knights receive their swords from the altar in order to pledge that they are sons of the church, and that they have received the sword for the honour of the priests, the protection of the poor, the punishment of the evildoers, and the liberation of the homeland.

Defining America

I doubt that Birzer is really motivated by what happened in history. He seems to be stuck on the idea that America itself is defined by the idea of the free movement of peoples, so that if you give up on open borders you lose your national identity.

That's a very unfortunate way to define a national identity, because it means that you identify with a process of dissolution and disempowerment. It means too that you are identifying with an idea or proposition, rather than with a concrete, organic, particular community. You are inhabiting a belief rather than a distinctive community with a shared history, culture and way of life.

In other words, there are two problems with holding to "Americanism" as a belief system rather than "America" as a distinctive national community. First, the specific ideal of "Americanism" is a dissolving one that cannot hold over time. The emotional warmth comes from a belief in the moral good of open borders, but open borders are ultimately corrosive of stable forms of community life, so that it forces the individual back in on himself - it strips him down until the psychological benefit of attaching nation to idea no longer functions. Birzer is still a believer, it still works for him, but clearly for many Americans it does not.

Second, it deprives the individual of the benefits of participating in a nation that is envisaged as a real community, with natural forms of loyalty and shared identity, rather than as an idea or proposition or belief system. It seems to me that there is a lazy individualism at the heart of Americanism, one in which you don't really need to commit to real relationships with others, because your sense of nation exists mostly as an idea inside your own mind. Maybe that is part of its appeal, that you aren't really challenged to relate to others in a practical way as part of an enduring community, because your see the connection between people only as an idea that applies to everyone equally wherever they are.

Monday, January 15, 2018

More intellectual inroads

I saw this Tweet and thought it very good:



This is, in my opinion, a key insight. For decades, those who disliked the liberal trends within society voted for the right-wing "conservative" parties hoping that this would change things. It was a grave mistake, as the political philosophy of these parties is generally a right-liberal one. So the protest vote achieved very little - it just kept power safely within the realm of liberal politics.

Back in the 1990s it was common to hear the term "left-liberal" to describe those on the left, whilst those on the right were usually called conservatives (at least here in Australia). I began to call these so-called conservatives "right-liberals" to try to make clear how limited the political choice really was. The late Lawrence Auster was kind enough to credit me with introducing the term:
For years I have argued that neoconservatism is a variant of liberalism, specifically of right-liberalism, the belief in the equal rights and the fundamental sameness of all human individuals, based on a single universal truth embodied in a democratic world order led by America. This right-liberalism—a term first developed by Australian blogger Mark Richardson—is distinguished from left-liberalism, the belief in individual expressive and sexual freedom and substantive group equality embodied in a transnational world order led by the UN and other transnational bodies.

I think we are at the point now where the argument I was trying to make will become more widely accepted. Patrick Deneen, in his recently released book Why Liberalism Failed, makes the point forcefully and eloquently, though he uses the terms classical liberal and progressive liberal rather than right and left liberal.

The text quoted in the Tweet is from a review of Deneen's book written by Gene Callahan. He writes,
American conservatives may be cheered by the appearance of a book entitled “Why Liberalism Failed.” But, in the sense in which Deneen is using “liberalism,” most American conservatives are actually liberals. Deneen’s use is in fact the one common among political theorists, many of whom argue that America does not have a conservative and a liberal party. Rather, it has a right-liberal party, focused on free markets and free trade, and a left-liberal party, focused on social issues.

...The two liberal parties in America compete by pointing to two seemingly opposed but factually reinforcing trends. The right-liberal Republicans warn against the dominance of society by the state, while the left-liberal Democrats point to the tyranny of the market as the greatest threat to human freedom. Thus each party inspires its partisan members by fear of the threat the other party represents. But despite appearances, both parties, in fact, jointly work to expand both the state and the market.

The left is becoming a hostile place for Westerners; white men in particular have been flocking instead to the right. There is not much point, though, flocking to a right-wing politics that keeps the larger social settings in place that are dissolving Western society. To change these settings means breaking with liberalism itself. That's the change that is necessary to make a real difference and to begin to steer a different and more viable course for our society.

More science of sex differences

This will come as no surprise to readers of this site, but recent scientific research has again confirmed differences in the brain structure of males and females. What is particularly interesting about the recent findings is that the test subjects were newborn infants. So from the very start of life, before any effect of culture, boys and girls are different in the way their brains are wired.

From the abstract:
Using high-resolution structural MRI, we measured subcortical gray and white matter brain volumes in a cohort (N = 143) of 1-month infants and examined characteristics of these volumetric measures throughout this early period of neurodevelopment. We show that brain volumes undergo age-related changes during the first month of life, with the corresponding patterns of regional asymmetry and sexual dimorphism. Specifically, males have larger total brain volume and volumes differ by sex in regionally specific brain regions, after correcting for total brain volume. Consistent with findings from studies of later childhood and adolescence, subcortical regions appear more rightward asymmetric. Neither sex differences nor regional asymmetries changed with gestation-corrected age. Our results complement a growing body of work investigating the earliest neurobiological changes associated with development and suggest that asymmetry and sexual dimorphism are present at birth.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

On white knighting

There is a longstanding theme within Western culture of men who dream of rescuing the damsel in distress, perhaps with the reward of a relationship for their efforts. It all seems noble and idealistic, but it has come in for criticism within the men's movement, to the point that the term "white knighting" is now a derogatory one. As it should be.

The thing you notice is that white knighting always seems to exist as part of a pair. When men engage in white knighting, women engage in the feminine imperative. And both, especially when existing together, are a sickly version of what the genuine relationship should look like.

The feminine imperative is the idea that men should sacrifice for, and be servants to, women. Or, to put it another way, that men exist to serve a woman's goals and objects (and that a woman therefore has no reason to be grateful for what a man, or men, might do for her). Here is an example of the Christian version of the feminine imperative:


She believes that even as the "head" of a family men are only there to sacrifice and serve, whilst the woman leads.

There is some basis for white knighting and the feminine imperative in our biological drives. Men do, after all, have an instinct to protect women and it also makes sense that young women, as the bearers of children, might be thought especially critical to the future existence of a tribe.

Even so, the white knight/feminine imperative axis is dysfunctional. Women who succeed in turning men into a servant class are making them romantically and sexually unattractive. Women are generally more sexually attracted to dominant men they find difficult to tame or control. Which is why the white knight strategy also fails spectacularly for men - it is not likely to lead a man to the end part of the fantasy, where he wins the woman.

This is what makes white knighting so lame. It is a poor strategy for an individual man, or for the men of a community, to follow in attempting to win the favours of women. It ends up not with women casting admiring glances at their rescuers, but in women feeling ungrateful to men they cannot respect or have a genuine attraction to.

This does not mean that men should not follow through with their protector instincts. But this instinct needs have a higher aim, namely the protection of the larger setting within which relationships can successfully take place. The male protector instinct should be applied to upholding the virtue of women within the culture; to defending the culture of family life; to preserving the position of married men as having status and power and therefore attractiveness; and to creating a protected space within which the feminine qualities of women might be cultivated.

It's not reasonable to expect that a man can do this alone, as an individual. It will only happen if and when numbers of men act together to reset the culture.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

It was the sophists?

I am reading A Short History of Ethics by Alasdair MacIntyre. In chapter 3 MacIntyre explains how the Greek concept of the natural man came about. According to MacIntyre, the sophists were moral relativists. They believed that a man was virtuous if he functioned well as a successful citizen. To do this, he had to conform to the prevailing conventions of what was just and right. But these varied from one city state to another. Therefore, the important thing was to learn to adapt to whatever the prevailing usage was.

So, and this is the important part, what was moral was identified with the conventional. What this meant is that the natural man, hidden inside the conventional man, was identified with the non-moral or pre-moral.

The next part is worth quoting in full:
"The natural man has no moral standards of his own. He is therefore free from all constraints upon him by others. All men are by nature either wolves or sheep; they prey or are preyed upon.

The natural man, conceived thus by the sophist, has a long history in European ethics in front of him. The details of his psychology will vary from writer to writer, but he is almost always - though not always - going to be aggressive and lustful. Morality is then explicable as a necessary compromise between the desire of natural men to aggress upon others and the fear of natural men that others will aggress upon them with fatal consequences. Mutual self-interest leads men to combine in setting up constraining rules to forbid aggression and lust...

A good deal of variation is possible in the way that this intellectual fairy tale is told, but its central themes, like those of all good fairy tales, are remarkably constant. And above all, at the heart of the account there remains the idea that social life is perhaps chronologically and certainly logically secondary to a form of unconstrained nonsocial human life..."

The problem with the view of the natural man that seems to have originated with the sophists is that it reduces the nature of men to a few basic, destructive instincts; that it sees the natural man as an atomised agent seeking his own selfish purposes; and that it severs the connection between the natural man and the collective institutions of society, with these institutions only existing as part of a social contract to constrain the destructive aspects of natural man.

It possibly also led to equally unhelpful counter-positions, in which the natural man living outside of convention was thought to be noble and only corrupted by conventional society, or in which the social institutions were thought to be a contract for the purposes of a few against the many and therefore oppressive, rather than being necessary constraints upon the natural man.

What is missing is a more nuanced few of human nature, one which sees men as having a moral nature, albeit a flawed one, so that men have it within their nature both to embody noble qualities as well as to pursue an aggressive self-interest. Nor does the natural man exist prior to human society - he has always been part of it. Institutions like the family or the tribe were not somehow contracted for but reflect the social nature and the social needs of the natural man. The family does constrain aspects of human nature, but it fulfils others at the same time.

You cannot sum up the nature of man in a line. You could write a whole library of books describing the biological, the intellectual, the moral, the spiritual, the social, the emotional, and the psychological impulses that run through men. Out of all of this, an individual and a culture attempt to come to a sense of what is most excellent, profound, admirable and true within human nature, but in a way that integrates or harmonises the different aspects of who we are as men (you cannot, for instance, ignore the biological drives of men in attempting to come to an integrated ideal of manhood.)

In short, it is wrong to see the natural man as being pre-moral and pre-social, and morality as being wholly conventional. I'll be interested to see how MacIntyre describes the unfolding of this sophist view of natural man later in his book.