Non-Discrimination, Private and Public

February 28, 2012

In The House of the Seven Gables (1851), Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote that “the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief.” Are we Americans paying for the crimes of our ancestors with the decline and imminent ruin of our beloved country? Maybe, but if so, what exactly was the crime? Taking the land from the Indians? Slavery? These are the obvious answers, but I cannot think that the evils we suffer today represent any kind of just punishment or karmic retribution for those events. We have long since done what we could to remedy the inequalities that they supposedly caused.

Perhaps the true answer is the opposite of what we conventionally think: our crime – or, at least, our profound error – is not discrimination, but non-discrimination. We started out feeling that it was not decent, or moral, to “discriminate” against minorities, meaning, mainly, black people; and the principle of non-discrimination gradually took over every functional institution of our society, until these institutions became actively harmful to the interests of the very people they were supposed to serve.

I certainly believed in non-discrimination for most of my life. For a personal example, which is almost amusing to me now, I once went on some dates through the classified ads (this was back when they were commonly printed in the free “alternative” weekly city papers, something I imagine has been supplanted by eHarmony). The ads would often specify the race of the person desired, e.g., SWF seeking SWM. I am a white man, but it offended me that so many white women were specifically seeking white men. I didn’t want to go out with someone who would say that! Also in the spirit of non-discrimination, I went out with a black woman or two. One lady was quite nice – clearly interested in white men (she was a lover of books and culture, and apparently couldn’t find many black men with compatible interests), but the instant I saw her I knew that I could not be attracted to her. It didn’t occur to me that preferring one’s own race might be a natural and healthy thing, or that, at least, people have the right to discriminate in the most personal of relationships, even if they believe in equal treatment in the public sphere. (It didn’t occur to me, either, that a white woman with an interest in black men might not be the best potential partner for me!) To give another example, I remember commenting to a female friend about a certain female acquaintance, that I didn’t think I could date her because she belonged to the Baha’i religion. The friend told me that she knew lots of wonderful Baha’i followers and that my comment made her “angry.” Here, at least, I stuck to my guns, insisting that religious differences were real, not something that could be overcome by niceness and kindness.

Non-discrimination is thought by its practitioners to be a virtue – perhaps the highest and most essential one of all. Yet it seems to be the code of non-discrimination that allows the worst evils to enter and flourish in our society, especially as a foundation for legal processes and decisions. The most egregious examples are probably immigration-related. (In a way, this entire blog is a reaction to mass non-Western immigration, though I usually approach the issue indirectly, by thinking about who we – the non-immigrants – are.) Outrage after outrage takes place, and nothing ever changes. Genetic testing reveals that the vast majority of Somalis brought here for family unification are actually not related to the people bringing them in. Investigations show that the vast majority of Chinese students in the United States faked their transcripts and essays. Vast numbers of Hispanics use stolen Social Security numbers. Is a commonsense decision ever made to put an end to the fraud by simply stopping taking in so many people from the particular countries involved? No, it is not. (The Somali reunification was halted, but apparently is slated to be resumed.) Somehow, the system itself cannot accept a sensible act of discrimination in that most personal – and most publicly important! – of choices, that of who to admit into one’s national family. We end up with a sick perversion of the American Dream, where lying and greed are rewarded and become the foundation of new citizenship. Is this moral? Is this virtue?

Ayn Rand, whose works I admire only very selectively, said that one must never fail to pronounce moral judgment. Laura Wood says that we must not fail to discriminate – in this article, she is referring to “economic discrimination in favor of men” in the workplace, but the statement applies to every aspect of society. Failure to judge and discriminate unleashes evil and mayhem. Even worse is the aggressive, coercive enforcement of non-discrimination through grievances and lawsuits. The great challenge for traditionalists and conservatives is to find a way to rebuild a society that judges and discriminates as it should.


Hangin’ Danny Deever

September 7, 2010

How amazing that there was a time that the poems of Rudyard Kipling, set to music, were known throughout the English-speaking world, sung in recitals and sold as records and sheet music. I learned about these songs through my father, who used to recite some of the poems from Barrack-Room Ballads to his not-very-appreciative kids. Nice versions can be found on a CD by the American baritone Leonard Warren (1911-1960), which I have been enjoying recently. (How amazing that sea shanties were so popular during that era, cleaned up, naturally, of the obscenity which was probably their original raison d’être. I wonder what the reason was for their popularity?)

Kipling’s poems are often quoted by traditionalists for their unforgettably rhythmic and concise statements of socially conservative truths. “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” tells us that the commonsense moral platitudes of traditional society will endure when progressive utopian dreams have been dashed to pieces. “The Stranger” makes an argument for preserving ethnic homogeneity. “If–” exhorts us to live lives of truth and courage. George Orwell famously describes Kipling as a “good bad” poet and finds a strong streak of sadism in his attitude towards the “natives” of the British Empire. No matter. The Empire is no more, but Kipling’s verse lives on in the English language.

Danny Deever,” set to music by Walter Damrosch and sung by Reinald Werrenrath in the above link, tells the story of military hanging. (One link to sea shanties, incidentally, is that it has been speculated that Kipling had the ditty “Barnacle Bill the Sailor” in mind when he composed it, although the resemblance is not very close.) Despite its bleak, gruesome theme, it somehow goes beyond merely horrifying the reader.

“WHAT are the bugles blowin’ for?” said Files-on-Parade.
“To turn you out, to turn you out,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
“What makes you look so white, so white?” said Files-on-Parade.
“I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they’re hangin’ Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play
The regiment’s in ‘ollow square – they’re hangin’ him to-day;
They’ve taken of his buttons off an’ cut his stripes away,
An’ they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

“What makes the rear-rank breathe so ‘ard?” said Files-on-Parade.
“It’s bitter cold, it’s bitter cold,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
“What makes that front-rank man fall down?” said Files-on-Parade.
“A touch o’ sun, a touch o’ sun,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
They are hangin’ Danny Deever, they are marchin’ of  ‘im round,
They ‘ave ‘alted Danny Deever by ‘is coffin on the ground;
An’ e’ll swing in ‘arf a minute for a sneakin’ shootin’ hound
O they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’!

” ‘Is cot was right-’and cot to mine,” said Files-on-Parade.
” ‘E’s sleepin’ out an’ far to-night,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
“I’ve drunk ‘is beer a score o’ times,” said Files-on-Parade.
” ‘E’s drinkin’ bitter beer alone,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ‘im to ‘is place,
For ‘e shot a comrade sleepin’ – you must look ‘im in the face;
Nine ‘undred of ‘is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,
While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

“What’s that so black agin the sun?” said Files-on-Parade.
“It’s Danny fightin’ ‘ard for life,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
“What’s that that whimpers over’ead?” said Files-on-Parade.
“It’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now,” the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they’re done with Danny Deever, you can ‘ear the quickstep play
The regiment’s in column, an’ they’re marchin’ us away;
Ho! the young recruits are shakin’, an’ they’ll want their beer to-day,
After hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

Kipling does something easily here that I don’t think a contemporary poet could do: he conveys the horror and tragedy of the death penalty without indicating in any way that executions should not take place. There is no question that Danny Deever is a murderer and deserves to die in disgrace, yet he is also a human being, and though his perspective is never given every soldier (including the officers) easily imagines himself in Danny’s place.

I have a relative who became very involved in the anti-death penalty movement, corresponding with death-row inmates and becoming emotionally involved with them in a way that made the entire family very uncomfortable. Although I always was troubled by this relative’s actions, for her sake I found myself wishing that some of these men not be executed, and I drifted toward an anti-death penalty position. I reasoned that getting rid of the death penalty would ensure that no innocent people get executed by mistake, and that this on the balance could make society more civilized and just.

Since then, though, I’ve come to feel quite certain that although it might be best if the number of executions is kept as low as possible, “civilization rests on the hangman” (if anyone knows the source of that quotation please let me know) and guilty murderers with no mitigating circumstances need to be removed from society – completely removed, not made wards of the state. The moral and material cost to those who honor the commandment not to kill is just too great. My purpose here is not to prove this to skeptics, just to state it clearly.

What a different world Kipling inhabited. In the British Army of the 19th century, not only was murder of fellow soldiers swiftly punished, it was ritualized from beginning to end, as described in the notes to the poem. A bugle assembly called the men to witness the hanging; the condemned man had his insignia cut off and walked, to the accompaniment of a dead march, behind his own coffin to the gallows. The men of his battalion were not only forced to watch the execution but also to file past the corpse afterwards and look directly at it. The violent nature of execution was not disguised, and the entire community participated in it. I would probably be swooning like the young soldiers in the same situation, but there is an undeniable logic to the practice.

It is easy to be convinced that these executions were excessively cruel and that it is a blessing that they have been done away with in the modern military. I submit to those who feel this way the case of the Fort Hood massacre, carried out not as a personal vendetta against some rival but as an enemy assault on the Army, the American people, and really against humanity itself. I do not follow the case anymore as it is too painful to contemplate the failure of our once-honorable military to administer justice for the sake of its own people. A military execution 19th-century style would be far too kind for this killer, but it would be an acceptable resolution to the incident. More: in a military that defended itself in this manner, this crime would not have happened, because the perpetrator’s hostile jihadist beliefs would have been identified long before and he would have been handled accordingly. 43 people would have been saved from being wounded or killed – the invisible beneficiaries of a system of justice willing to carry out the grim task of execution.

Here, Kipling is no sadist, but a realist who retains his capacity for compassion. I remain struck by the strange beauty of “Danny Deever,” and also by the fact that Western culture, not long ago, not only produced poems like it but also produced composers able to craft perfect melodies for them.


A Hedonist Utopia?

June 9, 2010

It seems to me perfectly natural and right that one should become more conservative as one gets older. It’s not that there is anything wrong with being traditional in one’s youth, but youth is naturally a time for self-discovery and testing boundaries, and it’s important then to develop qualities like courage and creativity, even at the expense of making some mistakes. The older generation, on the other hand, is responsible for preserving and defending the standards and traditions that they know, from experience, to be important to the entire society.

This, though, is probably a matter of maturity rather than conservatism in a political sense. In the political sense, it is by no means true that people always move from liberal to conservative as they get older. With the prevailing liberalization of society, in fact, the default tendency is to become more liberal. This is true of many people of my parents’ generation, who when they were younger would have viscerally opposed the public acceptance of homosexuality or the legitimization of Malcolm X as a social leader. It’s true of numerous public figures like George Will. If you live in a liberal community or work in a public institution where the prevailing winds blow liberal, it is hard to sustain the constant assault on your conservative values. You want to be liked, after all! I myself was at heart pretty much liberal until the shock of 9/11, when I began to see that our inability to effectively respond to the most audacious and flagrant attacks our nation had endured in its entire history was rooted in our moral weakness. That began a process of exploration of self and society that continues for me to this day, some of the results of which are posted on these pages.

I can’t imagine returning to any of my former default liberal stances, because although I may not have figured out exactly what to replace them with, I am sure that as they stood they are wrong. It seems clear to me, for example, that if we don’t get a grip on marriage and figure out some way to get men and women to marry at a reasonably young age and stay married, family life as we have known it, and everything this has meant to us, will be largely replaced by much less nourishing and stable alternative arrangements. I don’t think this is a possibility, I think it’s a certainty. And nowadays, for most social problems, I tend to take a conservative stance – which is not the same thing as wanting to put things back just as they were in the past.

And yet it is a fact that even people who have gone quite far in committing themselves to a conservative or traditional position do reverse themselves sometimes. I’m thinking of a number of male friends of mine who are or were either conservative or libertarian. My assumption, or wishful thought, is that such persons should naturally become more conservative as time goes on and they see more and more evidence that liberalism just isn’t working. To my surprise, though, this is not always the case. One of my friends, for instance, was publicly quite active in the Republican Party up until 2008 and took quite a bit of flak for it at his very liberal workplace, but has lately been complaining about the “extremists” in that party and claiming that national health care may be a great thing. I know another fellow, in his mid-30s, who was very active in his church and, as far as I could see, a rock-solid conservative, but who has lately dropped church entirely and spends his energy trying to pick up women at clubs. (Maybe he finally broke after failing to find a wife at church.) One of my on-line friends, with whom I thought I shared many values, recently told me that he was through with the “far right” and that he thought we may be heading for a “hedonistic utopia,” which he had decided to enjoy rather than resist.

What surprises me about individuals like these is that they seem to have truthfully seen the false and self-destructive nature of liberalism and stood against it, but then somehow changed their minds, at least partially. This, to me, is more puzzling than the case of people with a liberal worldview simply holding on to or expanding that view. How can you see the truth, and then deliberately forget it?

But these persons, if they were reading this, would certainly deny that they are suppressing or forgetting anything. They see reality; I am clinging to unfounded beliefs. Or, maybe more likely: nothing is certain, and they’re choosing to be more optimistic, or to think more flexibly (OK, maybe this is not my strong point!), or to live more in the moment. Who knows how it will all turn out?

I don’t believe it, though. I can’t look at the growth of Islam in our and fool myself into thinking it just might happily resolve itself into something benign without our having to fight it. I can’t look at the efforts of “marriage equality” activists to force their relationships into the institution of marriage, and believe that this won’t harm children, families, and the larger society. I can’t look at illegal “Hispanic” immigrants marching in favor of an amnesty for themselves, and believe that my American society can assimilate their presence. I don’t see sexual hedonism as leading to anything but heartbreak, mutual alienation, and sad children or no children in the long run. A hedonist utopia? A hedonist hell, more likely.

(I feel compelled to interject here that I am no “puritan” and am quite a fun-loving person. But you’ll have to take my word for it!)

Furthermore, all these issues are connected. I believe Pat Robertson said something about 9/11 being a punishment for our acceptance of homosexuality. I do not consider that to be a factually true statement, and Robertson may be crazy for all I know, but there is metaphorical truth in it. There is a connection between our loosening up and de-valuing of traditional marriage (and other relationships and sets of obligations that transcend individual desire), and our ensuing softness and spinelessness as a society that the Muslims observed and correctly saw as an indication that we were ripe for them to prey on.

On such matters, I’m going to continue to try to show people I care about that those connections are real – and I hope this does not preclude also learning from the perspectives of others! It is not that I know much; but all anyone can do is try to express what he sees. Those who feel I’m missing something will, I hope, try to set me straight.


More Important than the Right to Life

April 25, 2010

During the Bush years, liberal white Americans seemed to live in constant anger, sincerely felt, over the frustration and humiliation of living under a president they despised who was carrying out a war they hated. At the same time, it was becoming apparent to some people of a more conservative bent (most of whom at had initially supported that president and that war) that despite individual victories for their side the country as a whole was continuing to drift to the left. Now that we have a left-wing president and a Democratic majority in Congress, that drift has turned into a series of huge tectonic jolts. Ironically, the open display on the part of many Democrats and ethnic interest groups of an unlimited willingness to destroy whatever remains of the traditional social order has energized many conservatives to resist this destruction. In this sense it is an exciting time to inhabit the right end of the spectrum. Sooner or later, though, conservatives will see that their energy and excitement will not be able to reverse the leftward movement in the long term.

One theoretical reason for the ineffectiveness of today’s conservatism is its failure to oppose liberal principles. Liberalism as it exists today demands that every inequality between men and women, whites and minorities, citizens and foreigners, Christians and Muslims, wealthy and poor, be eradicated; for this it will use any means at hand, including legal coercion, mass immigration, and redistribution of wealth. Republicans, and intellectual conservatives, oppose this coercion and redistribution in the context of individual issues, but are rarely willing to argue for social policies that affirm and reinforce certain types of inequality. Nor are they willing to defend their own society as having a particular character, viz., to affirm that the United States is essentially an English-speaking, white, Christian civilization, an extraordinarily obvious fact that has been deleted from our collective memory (or turned into our deepest shame). Their conservatism is limited; they are essentially liberal in their core beliefs. We are left unable to take the most basic steps to protect our security, prosperity, and freedom – and we keep moving to the left.

We need to learn to articulate non-liberal principles and say and defend them until they are once more current in our society. A non-liberal principle, it seems to me, is one that affirms or justifies a non-egalitarian social institution or practice in terms of eternal or transcendent truths. “Men and women are naturally different,” “Islam mandates eternal war against unbelievers” “the different racial groups differ in average capacities of various types,” and the like are non-liberal facts; non-liberal principles which guide, say, the institution of marriage, immigration policy, or educational practices are based on the recognition of such facts. How many conservatives are ready to do this intellectual work?

Russell Kirk’s Portable Conservative Reader contains a section called “Critical Conservatism” which gives some samples of how this intellectual work might proceed. One is the 1915 essay “Property and Law” by Paul Elmer More, from which I posted a quote last week. This essay is an excellent illustration of what it means to articulate a non-liberal principle. It starts with More’s expressed concern that during a “long strike in the mines of Colorado, with violence on both sides and bitter recriminations,” no word was expressed by the mine owners and conservative press on behalf of property rights. Rather, they argued for their side in terms of “the inalienable right of every American citizen to work without interference” (as John D. Rockefeller put it; p. 436). That is, they argued in terms of liberal equality, rather than defending the principle of private property, which inherently means the acceptance of inequality.

Why, faced with violent strikes and militant socialist rhetoric comparing mine owners to murderers, was no defense made of property rights? More traces the undermining of the idea of property rights to Rousseau, who saw them as originally having been created by a class of men who, having used their superior abilities to acquire possessions, protected those possessions from the masses by passing laws in defense of property. Rousseau observed that in this way “property is the basis of civilization” (p. 440). With the establishment of property, the originally small natural differences between individuals were magnified into the enormous ones observable in modern civilization. More acknowledges that there is truth in what Rousseau says, but denies that doing away with property rights can lead to general happiness:

It is a fact that property has been the basis of civilization, and that with property there has come a change from natural inequality to what is assumed to be unnatural injustice. But it is not a fact that barbarism is in general a state of innocence and happiness. (p. 438)

More challenges head-on the basic premises of the socialism:

Socialism rests on two assumptions. First, that community of ownership will, for practical purposes, eliminate the greed and injustice of civilized life. This I deny, believing it to be demonstrably false in view of the present nature of most men, and, I might add, in view of the notorious quarrelsomeness of the socialists among themselves. Secondly, that under community of control the material productivity of society will not be seriously diminished. This question I leave to the economists, though here too it would appear to follow demonstrably from the nature of man that the capacity to manage and the readiness to be managed are necessary to efficient production. (p. 440)

More also denies that socialism is based on scientific principles, or as Marxism put it, the “economic interpretation of history.”

…the real strength of socialism, the force that some think is driving us along the edge of revolution, is in no sense a reasoned conviction that public ownership is better than private ownership, but rather a profound emotional protest against the inequalities of ownership. (p. 441)

He then states his anti-Marxist, conservative principle in refreshingly bold terms: “To the civilized man the rights of property are more important than the right to life.” (p. 442)

The reader who does not find the truth of this statement to be obvious should “read the whole thing,” as they say, which includes a discussion of Roman law that I could not completely follow. But the basic idea is clear enough. He does not mean that property is more important than life, in the sense that if I am starving to death I should choose to die rather than steal an apple from my wealthy neighbor’s orchard. He means that one of the main functions of the legal system of a civilized society must be to keep property secure, even though, life and human nature being what they are, there will inevitably occur large and small injustices, and even loss of life from time to time, under any such system. Despite this, he insists, “it is better that legal robbery should exist along with the maintenance of law, than that legal robbery should be suppressed at the expense of law” (p. 445). In closing, he suggests that the Church and the University have generally been have always been “strongly reactionary against any innovations which threaten the entrenched rights of property” because they understood that the spiritual and intellectual vocations that they supported depended upon the security of property. (He did not anticipate the left-wing universities and liberal churches of today!). “[I]f property is secure, it may be the means to an end, whereas if it is insecure it will be the end itself” (p. 450).

More’s essay does not completely fit with the current situation, since socialism, in the sense of a movement for communal ownership of the means of production by workers, is not the dominant ideology today (which is why it is not very effective to call Obama a “socialist,” although it is true in a moral sense). Property rights are still sometimes violated by violent demonstrations, but more often by taxation and regulation of how property may be used – say, anti-discrimination laws, or the ongoing government takeover of the practice of medicine. But the broader truth of what he says has not changed at all. Indeed, it seems to me that the wedding of jealously-guarded personal freedom with firmly-secured property rights is part of the essence of traditional American (or Anglosphere) society.

Other conservative principles, similarly, express the idea that in a civilized society, the whole is in some sense more important than the individual parts, or the transcendent more important than the particular. As a former libertarian, I hate to admit this, but it is true. For instance, that the security of the country is more important than the comfort of the individual. That the preservation of the family is more important than personal sexual fulfillment. Or that the majority culture is more important than any minority sub-culture. One can always cite egregious counter-examples that seem to prove these principles untrue, but to believe them thus refuted is to confuse individual exceptions with rules of general conduct.

A propos of the discussion of property, I was interested to read in a biography of Thomas Jefferson about the public response to his impending bankruptcy in the last year of his life:

At the opening of the year 1826, the last of his life, Jefferson’s financial embarrassments threatened to drive him into bankruptcy and the loss of his estate. In despair he turned to the Virginia Legislature, asking permission to sell part of his property by lottery. “If it can be yielded,” he wrote to a friend in the legislature, “I can save the house of Monticello and a farm adjoining to end my days in and bury my bones. His countrymen came forward with voluntary subscriptions to save his estate. New York contributed eight thousand five hundred dollars, Philadelphia five thousand dollars, Baltimore three thousand dollars. The project of the lottery was suspended, and the immediate demands were met….The aged statesman was fortunately left to end his days under the happy delusion that this “pure and unsolicited offering of love” by his fellow countrymen would suffice not only to pay off all his debts but to leave his dependants in ease at Monticello. (David Muzzey, Thomas Jefferson, p. 303)

What is of interest to the present discussion is not Jefferson’s unfortunate insolvency at the end of his life, but that the American people found it desirable that the property of one of our great statesmen be kept intact, although this would bring no material gain to any of them as individuals. They recognized its spiritual importance to us (and the value of giving a living president the dignity of remaining there), as a symbol of our identity and history. They did not hold rights to it as property, but they knew that as a symbol of the nation it belonged, in a sense, to every American. This is why, for similar reasons, the destruction of the World Trade Towers was in reality an attack on all American people, and not just those who owned or happened to be in the towers that day. Materialists do not see this. They would rather that the British royal family’s property be taken away from them and redistributed among the people; they would rather that a cathedral be made into a homeless shelter.

The spiritual happiness of a civilized people is indeed dependent on property rights. The transcendent is more important than the particular, but is realized, on this earth at least, only through the particular. If conservatives, traditionalists, and other committed patriots can seize on these truths and make them their own, things may begin to turn in their favor again.

Citations

Russell Kirk, The Portable Conservative Reader, New York: Penguin Books, 1982.
David Muzzey, Thomas Jefferson, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918.


In No Particular Order….

December 10, 2009

Some thoughts pursuant to the discussion we had before Thanksgiving of possible strategies and directions for an ethno-conservative movement (see “A Type of Protest I’d Like to See” and “Non-Radical Revolution and Separation“):

1. A Gramscian strategy of working from the bottom up to leadership positions in our social institutions was suggested. Actually, I have not read Gramsci before, although last week I took a look at some of his letters from prison. At one point he claimed to be reading “a book a day.” I find this enviable. Maybe I need to go to jail. But I don’t think my intellectual vigor matches that of Gramsci.

2. A good case was made for “non-radical revolution,” something I agree must be tried, despite the serious and growing demographic obstacles to such a movement, which at some point threaten to become insurmountable. (Many say they are; but since we have no choice but to live in whatever circumstances are given to us, I wonder if it even matters. And anyway, I remain convinced the problem is largely within our collective spirit. It is not as if we face a genuinely formidable, superior enemy.)

3. My problem with the non-radical approach is that rising to the top in most of the institutions of our society requires the actual promotion of the current liberal agendae of diversity, non-discrimination, globalism, feminism, and the like. So is one supposed to just pretend to accept these things until one reaches the top, and then do an about-face? The case of Lawrence Summers shows that you are not safe at the top. Even the Pope has (or acts as if he has) no real power to oppose Islam. And one cannot really thrive if one has to wear camouflage all the time.

4. But maybe politics (among other fields?) is a special case where, at least in areas with large remaining middle-American conservative constituencies, a skillful figure working at the local level can actually be a leader, channeling the public’s healthy instinct for self-preservation into political form. Tom Tancredo did an admirable job of this and he seems to be evolving into a genuine ethno-conservative leader (were it not so, he would not be consorting with Buchanan). If a Tancredo is doomed to be drummed out of politics then there is little hope in this sort of endeavor, but what if we could get 10 or 20 Tancredos in office in the next decade? That seems possible. Such a coalition could have serious influence on our politics, if not much “power” in the conventional sense.

The point here would not so much be gaining actual legislative power as it would be forcing issues into the public discourse, and providing genuine representation for the interests of heritage Americans.

5. As I suggested in my discussion of “Gay Pride” marches and civilian trials for mass-murdering terrorists, another productive approach is to support single-issue movements in which the opposition’s position is so outrageous that persistent, articulate support of a traditional or conservative position is bound to gain significant public support. Immigration restriction remains the big issue we can’t let go. Anti-jihadism remains a core issue.Traditional marriage, gun rights, food labeling (who the heck got the laws repealed that required disclosure of what country foods come from?), English-as-official-language-movements, and protection of police officers are a few good causes that come to mind. Certain such causes  could be taken over by ethno-conservatives in time, though it’s not possible now.

6. Is there a way to work within the Republican Party for traditionalism? When I see who rises to the top in that party, it seems highly unlikely. But what about at the local level?

7. We must support, quietly, or loudly, the few people and publications who openly advocate race realism. Stand up for those whose livelihood and well-being suffer because of their views – whether they are professional or just inadvertant realists. In general, we should not publicly criticize people who are “to one’s right,” unless they are absolutely over the top. And even then, we must ask whether such criticism might not be more harmful than beneficial to one’s long-term goals. Black people don’t criticize Al Sharpton. Why should we have to apologize for our Al Sharptons? (If there are any.)

8. What role might local, discreet groups who meet in real life for social or activist purposes serve? I originally intended this website to help serve that function, but I confess that I have backed away from it. First, of course there is risk involved in mutual disclosure of identity. Second, the numbers seem too small. Ian Jobling’s White America has a meet-up page and there doesn’t seem to be much happening there, although that could change, and I hope it will. Third, I think meeting needs to have a clear purpose. It would certainly be fun to meet and talk with like-minded people from time to time, and it could be spiritually and intellectually fruitful. However, most of us are probably so busy with our families, jobs, and non-political social lives that it would be hard to make a big commitment to some group of fellow ethno-conservatives. So, what purpose would meeting serve? (This is not a rhetorical, but a genuine question.)

9. Most meaningful political and social activity must be directed towards our own people. Praise and support those of our own who do what’s right (even if they do not welcome our praise and support). Vilify, obstruct, intimidate, trick those of our own who betray us. We have little ability to influence those outside of our ethnic group. We shouldn’t try to court favor with black, brown, yellow, or purple people. Those who offer their respect and goodwill should receive it; those who act as enemies should be treated as such.

The winter will pass, so let’s stay warm, and be careful out there!


A Type of Protest I’d Like to See

November 16, 2009

I like to think that what I write in this blog might have the effect of influencing a person or two of liberal, or mainstream conservative, persuasion by helping them to see some of the non-politically-correct truth of what is happening to their country. Yet I recognize that in reality most of my readers are already sympathetic to my perspective. Consequently, much of my writing reads like part of a conversation among like-minded people. That has its own legitimate function, of course. We traditional patriots (if I may be so daring as to apply such an epithet to such a shadowy group and further to include myself in such honorable company) need the encouragement, the intellectual stimulation, even the entertainment that largely anonymous Internet formats currently provide better than any other. And if we keep striking flint to steel we may eventually get fire. So be it. For now.

Yet my mind returns again and again to the question of what I can do to contribute to the cause of my people, or, if that sounds grandiose, to at least be part of a functioning movement. The traditionalist conservative, or ethno-conservative, or nationalist, movement has as yet no real power in our society. In America we have scarcely even begun to define ourselves as a people in any other than universalist, liberal terms. The most “conservative” among us are unable to explain why it would be wrong to reduce whites to 1% of the population, though even the most liberal of us must see that there would be something wrong with this. There seems to be no base on which to stand to fight. I myself work for a liberal bureaucratic institution and would quickly become persona non grata were my views to become known to my co-workers. (I do anticipate taking that risk when the time is right, but that does not seem to be now.) Perhaps it might be better to enter a more “conservative” field, where this would be less of a problem. But lo, I look all around and there is nothing but liberal bureaucracy in every area of society, even in the military, even in the churches – and it’s getting worse all the time. What to do? Sometimes I fantasize about getting together with some friends and forming an Amish type of community separate from the larger society. But that hardly seems practical either.

Oh, sure, I send money to a few causes, call my elected representatives once in a while, write letters, things like that. And these are worthwhile, even essential, things to do. But there is no power in them. The powers that be allow the expression of opinion. Almost on a daily basis letters to the editor appear in the local paper expressing solid, middle-American values. But this opinion is carefully filtered out from the actual decision-making bodies, leaving only lifeless printed words that are remembered by none.

And after all, expressing opinion is nothing in itself. For in truth – as some have said – what is going on is not an argument but a fight. A war, which requires the use of force. I am not talking, of course, literally about battalions of troops shooting each other, but I am talking about pressure, coercion, compulsion, strategy, propaganda, and even (as Mohammed knew well) deceit.

We have very little force at our command except for a few fine, brave thinkers. And, on the other hand, all that remains of the spirit of our nation in the hearts of the people.

Now, our society is so rotten, so corrupt and weak in so many ways, that there ought to be numerous weaknesses that we traditionalists can exploit. The very passivity, lack of clear thinking, lack of loyalty, and venality that lead our politicians and businessmen to roll over and surrender to invaders who are largely inferior in ability to their hosts (or victims) and without exception dependent on the largesse of those hosts, ought to be exploitable by those of us who are tired of living under the conditions they set.

Yet for me, a clear path for action has yet to emerge.

One small thought I’d like to throw out today concerns the possibility of protests. Conservatives, of course, don’t much like protesting. Left-wing theatrics, George Bush paper-mache dolls on stilts, stupid chanted slogans, are embarrassing to us. Mob activity is repugnant, the antithesis of the type of politics practiced by a free people.

And yet…we have reached the point where things so outrageous and abominable as to have been inconceivable only a few years ago are being presented to us as normal and beyond question. (Read any issue of the New York Times for examples. Or, on second thought, don’t.) In some cases, I believe the supporters of these causes and activities have become careless, assuming they have already won a struggle that is still far from decided. Why not figure out some areas where selective protest might catch its targets off guard?

For instance, Gay Pride parades. These have become elevated to mainstream events in recent years. I witnessed one in Columbus, Ohio, a few years ago. At first glance, they look like a normal sort of summer festival – floats, music, a big turnout, neighbors on their porches watching the show while enjoying drinks from coolers. Then you look more closely and you see the aged transvestites, the flashes of nudity, the free packets of sexual lubricant tossed from a float, and you begin to feel ill. Then you see the small children who are being exposed to the filth and start to feel that a crime is taking place.

Then you see that Chase Bank (or some such pillar of the community) is a sponsor of the event.

Could a group of citizens not organize themselves to follow these events and, without actual violence, disrupt them? Even if the event could not actually be stopped, it would surely put a crimp on their fun, would it not? One would, of course, have to attune the signs, slogans, and actions to the values of real, average citizens. None of this “God Hates Fags” stuff which one suspects is actually planted by the opposition to convince the public that only foaming-at-the-mouth “haters” oppose these events.

Would this not possibly embarrass Chase Bank just a bit? Are the homosexualists really that powerful and do they really enjoy that much support? Or is their “pride” more like an inflated soap bubble that could be easily pricked? And, if the government or police go too far in supporting them, won’t this undermine them in the eyes of much of their constituency? Yeah, we know about free speech and all, but are you actually arresting people who don’t want this in their neighborhood?

Then there are the atrocities carried out by Muslims on U.S. soil and the craven and dead response of the media and other authorities, up to and including the current President of the United States. The demonic fiend and enemy alien who probably planned the mass slaughter of Americans in Washington and New York is going to be given a civilian trial in New York with our best lawyers arguing that evidence against him gained by “torture” cannot be admitted? Given a platform to terrorize Americans and rally the Muslim enemy through grandiose speeches given while sporting the bin Laden lookalike stinking beard and turban we’ve allowed him to assume as his “human right”? The type of non-human being who makes me realize that even my deep opposition to lynching and torture has exceptions?

Why not have a large and continually replenished group of dignified (but obtrusive) protesters with signs saying “Death to Jihadist Murderers”? Why not set up some of the same outside Fort Hood or wherever the “fair trial” of that creature is supposed to take place? There would need to be enough present for a long enough time that even if the media chose to ignore them they would be seen by thousands of people in person. Again, if such protesters are arrested or forced to move, what will that do to the credibility of the authorities?

Well, I probably should apologize for raising the grand question of What To Do and then offering just another limited, conventional sort of action, of the sort which is indeed being conducted from time to time. But my point is that we need to examine the structure of our liberal society as a whole and identify the weaknesses that might be exploited to undermine it – and the areas (for instance, at present, the Internet) that can still serve as bases for strategic actions.

Since hostile readers will have little to say on this question, I invite my friendly readers to share their insights on this question.


In Search of Civilization

November 2, 2009

In search of...

American society, like other Western societies, is clearly in trouble. We see not only a decline in our physical and cultural environment, but, increasingly, the emergence of actual barbarism and savagery within our borders, as events like the gang rape that took place outside a California high school show us on almost a daily basis. But what can we do? Liberals pin their hopes on progressive social reform, carried out by the government and other institutions. Libertarians, a minority, see protecting individual freedom as key. Conservatives call for a return to traditional values and social norms. I hold that the conservative position (perhaps with certain elements of the other two) offers the only hope for saving these United States. But “traditional values” are not simply principles to be followed, voluntarily, by individuals. They must be embodied in the framework of a larger society. For Westerners, at least, that larger society is the nation, and the culture and society of that nation is its civilization.

That last sentence might sound like the sort of dull truism that schoolchildren used to be taught to write in composition class, but the shocking fact is that the idea of civilization, once taken for granted, has entirely dropped out from our discourse. This is a natural consequence of the domination of the values of equality and nondiscrimination. For the idea of civilization necessarily implies the existence of its opposite, non-civilization, the primitive, savage, or barbaric. Western men today are carefully trained to avoid judging any group or society in such terms, because this implies that some groups or societies are superior to others, and that the white Westerner making such judgments might see his own group as superior. Today, to see Western culture as superior is seen not only as morally contemptible but as nearly self-evidently false as the statement “two plus two equals five.”

Thus the idea of American civilization, which once was an academic subject in itself and which formed the framework for any discussion of the history, literature, and culture of the United States, has vanished from our natural life. The defenders of that civilization withered under the sneering voices of people like Gandhi, who is supposed to have said, when asked what he thought of Western civilization, “I think it would be a good idea.”

I think that American civilization would be a very good idea and I would like us to reclaim the concept. Of course, our kindred Western nations need to do the same. We might start by fleshing out the concept of civilization a little.

My 1985 American Heritage Dictionary defines civilization as follows: “1. An advanced stage of development in the arts and sciences accompanied by corresponding social, political, and cultural complexity. 2. The type of culture and society developed by a particular nation or region or in a particular epoch: the civilization of ancient Rome.” I suppose that the word is still used occasionally in the second sense, but probably not in the first, unless with a meaning so broad that it applies to all human societies that exist today. Somalis have SUVs, therefore they are civilized.

A complete set of the Encyclopedia Americana, 1951 edition, is one of the under-appreciated treasures of my parents’ home that I intend to claim for myself someday. It is, come to think of it, a product of American civilization. Interestingly, its article on “Civilization” is fully titled “CIVILIZATION, History of. Pre-Christian,” with no corresponding article on Christian civilization, which I suppose is covered under another heading. The article gives an impressively expansive enumeration of the components of civilization, focusing on Europe and the Near East. It includes things like: food-getting; agriculture; fire; mining; textile-making; architecture; art; music; clothing; cooking; government; commerce; transportation; science (beginning with astronomy); medicine; and literacy. Always amazing is how much people in very ancient times were able to accomplish in these areas.

What is common to these definitions of civilization is the linkage between material developments and spiritual elevation. This comes out in a careful reading of the Americana article. For example, the bow and arrow gave man “an entirely new dominance over his world and lifted his food-getting enterprises and himself above the level of the brute as no other invention had done up to that time.” With the invention of agriculture, man “had to stay in a place long enough to plant and to reap and this acquired a sense of ownership.” Also, “Without the use of fire, man could not have risen above the lowest depths of savagery and barbarism.” For “When he took the fire and put it on a crude stone hearth just within the hut, it meant a better home and the gathering about the hearth marks the beginning of the family circle with all that that has meant.” Textiles, building, music, and other arts are linked with spiritual elevation; for instance, “The wonderful sculpture which filled the Grecian world before and after B.C. 500 must have done much to awaken in the people a love of the beautiful and a distaste for whatever was ugly.”

Almost poignant, in an era when over half of marriages end in divorce, is the discussion of the family, which should give us pause to think:

No single fact has been more influential in the process of civilization than the rise of the family. Respect, consideration for one another, chastity, obedience, honor, sacrificing love, virtues altogether fundamental to civilization, are its direct product.

On government, the writer notes of the laws of Hammurabi and others:

These laws are attempts to compel a certain orderliness, and decency and honor in human activities and relationships. This growing custom of making a man face the wrong of his acts and inflicting a penalty therefore, compelled him to see the need of taking some thought as to the character and consequences of his deeds.

Of religion, the writer says that it “has played its part in helping and hindering and shaping civilization,” and interestingly gives as the first example an example of a Neanderthal youth buried with a food offering. I read a similar story as a boy. The writer sees a positive progression from primitive religions in which man “worships gods which are usually fearful and many, and believes that these gods cause all things to happen,” to Judaism and Christianity.

The civilizing value of the idea of a God as a God of Righteousness proclaimed by the Hebrew prophets has even yet not been fully realized, and when under Josiah social justice was made virtually a religion, religion was destined to play a greater part in lifting civilization to higher levels.

One does sense in the use of words like “social justice” an assumption that the goal of civilization is equality. One also senses a materialistic bias, with material developments seeming to lead to spiritual ones instead of vice-versa. Both tendencies are problematic. One lesson people living in the 21st century ought to have learned by now is that material and spiritual progress are not inevitably correlated, though it may have been possible to believe in 1951 that they were. Our material progress continues, at least in some areas, but our spiritual and social decline is striking. And, as with the recording of rapes on cell phones, technology can be used in service of outright savagery.

Still, the view of civilization presented in the Americana is helpful in reminding us of what we are trying to preserve – civilization as a “total package,” a society of people with a history and way of life that took eons to develop and needs to be maintained and protected. The value of civilization, indeed, the inseparability of our civilization from everything we love and are, was self-evident to all Westerners until recent times. Recapturing the idea can help us focus our efforts to save the thing.


The Peaceful Warrior-King: Enemy of Progress? (More on The Lady of the Lake)

August 1, 2009

Lady of the Lake

O minstrel Harp, still must thine accents sleep?
‘Mid rustling leaves and fountains murmuring,
Still must thy sweeter sounds their silence keep,
Nor bid a warrior smile, nor teach a maid to weep?

(Lady of the Lake, Canto I)

Most wars, I suppose, are caused in one way or another by a territorial conflict between two peoples. It is simply a fact of life that to be a people requires that there be some territory that belongs exclusively to that people. Historically, the differences between even similar peoples have been sufficient to cause much bloodshed. We Americans have our own experience of civil war to show how fragile peace and national unity can be.

Walter Scott, in The Lady of the Lake (1810) (1), portrays a 16th-century conflict between James II, King of Scotland, who is attempting to bring the Border region under control, and a (fictitious) rebellious Highland clan, the Alpine, led by Roderick Dhu, vengeful and cruel, yet honorable in his way. The “lady of the lake” is the beautiful Ellen with the angelic singing voice, living in hiding on an island in Loch Katrine under Roderick’s protection. Her father is Douglas, former Earl of Bothwell and attendant to the king, who has been banished from his estate due to suspected hostile intentions towards the throne. Douglas and his daughter seek reconciliation and peace, but the volatile Roderick, hearing reports of a mustering of the king’s followers for war, summons his clan to war. Ellen is pursued by both Roderick and one James Fitz-Hugh, who has wandered into Highland territory while hunting, but she refuses them in favor of her beloved, Malcolm. After a duel in which Fitz-Hugh kills Roderick, Douglas and Ellen achieve peace by surrendering themselves to the King – where a final surprise awaits them. The king restores Douglas to his rightful position and orders an end to the hostilities.

Grounding his story in the contrast between the Gaelic-speaking, not-quite-civilized Highland Scots and the “Saxons” or Anglicized Scots under James, Scott paints a romantic picture of warriors on both sides, extolling their courage, vitality, and masculine beauty. Fitz-Hugh, for example, is portrayed thus:

On his bold visage middle age
Had slightly press’d its signet sage,
Yet had not quench’d the open truth
And fiery vehemence of youth;
Forward and frolic glee was there,
The will to do, the soul to dare,
The sparkling glance, soon blown to fire,
Of hasty love, or headlong ire.
His limbs were cast in manly mould,
For hardy sports or contest bold;
And though in peaceful garb array’d,
And weaponless, except his blade,
His stately mien as well implied,
A high-born heart, a martial pride,
As if a Baron’s crest he wore,
And sheathed in armour trod the shore. (Canto I)

Yet Scott in no way glorifies fighting for its own sake, unless in the pastime of hunting – and even here a noble stag is supposed to be given a fair chance to flee. Indeed, the most “martial” figure of all, Roderick, is rejected by Ellen for his savagery and vengefulness:

…I grant him brave,
But wild as Bracklinn’s thundering wave;
And generous – save vindictive mood,
Or jealous transport, chafe his blood:
I grant him true to friendly band,
As his claymore is to his hand;
But O! That very blade of steel
More mercy for a foe would feel:
I grant him liberal, to fling
Among his clan the wealth they bring,
When back by lake and glen they wind,
And in the Lowland leave behind,
Where once some pleasant hamlet stood,
A mass of ashes slaked with blood. (Canto II)

Although the poem’s immediate subject is the conflict between Fitz-Hugh and Roderick, it is really about the effort of King James to peacefully consolidate his rule. This rule the poet considers legitimate, although tainted by the king’s flaws – a certain rashness of character, and inclination to chase fair maids. His reign has been harmed by ambitious nobles who have falsely denounced Douglas and others to him. The king declares that his purpose is to “watch…o’er insulted laws” and “to right the injured cause.” Thus he made a fair judgment of Douglas:

Calmly we heard and judged his cause,
Our council aided and our laws….
…Bothwell’s Lord henceforth we own
The friend and bulwark of our Throne. (Canto VI)

At the same time, the reconciliation is achieved not only by adherence to law, but by a spirit of loving-kindness native to the king and personified by Ellen, who in some small way turns the heart of each man in the story away from rash warfare. Not that Ellen is a pacifist, as the last lines of this passage suggest:

Her kindness and her worth to spy,
You need but gaze on Ellen’s eye;
Not Katrine [the lake], in her mirror blue,
Gives back the shaggy banks more true,
Than every free-born glance confess’d
The guileless movements of her breast;
Whether joy danced in her dark eye,
Or woe or pity claim’d a sigh,
Or filial love was glowing there,
Or meek devotion pour’d a prayer,
Or tale of injury called forth
The indignant spirit of the North.

The lawfulness and humaneness of the civilizing order are understood to be Christian qualities, contrasted with the rougher ways of the Highlanders, still partly pagan.

A search of articles on The Lady reveals that it was being taught in middle schools in the 1930s; I am not sure exactly when it fell from favor. There is no doubt, though, that neither its content nor its style would have commended it to educators in the later 20th century. Scott’s extolling of traditional virtues like faith, chastity, valor, and honor in a hierarchical world of inherited positions did not reflect the modern egalitarian ideal. The actions of his characters were motivated largely by their given roles and their virtues or lack thereof; there was little of the psychological complexity favored in modern literature. And the flowery, descriptive style with its redundancy and its heavy rhymes was no longer considered to be good writing.

Not only that, Scott was under suspicion of being a source of dangerous ideas – of popularizing a fantasy code of honor that Mark Twain almost literally blamed for the Civil War. The famous passage, from Life on the Mississippi, is quoted in this recent, very derogatory article from The Atlantic:

Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote. Most of the world has now outlived good part of these harms, though by no means all of them; but in our South they flourish pretty forcefully still.

There may be aspects of Scott’s writing that merit Twain’s criticism (which in any case is deliberately exaggerated and probably more applicable to Scott’s imitators); but The Lady contains nothing that can be understood as a call to brash rebellion, let alone to acts of terror. It is true that the portrayal of the loyalty-unto-death bond uniting the members of Clan Alpine remind one the “band of brothers” rhetoric of the South during the Civil War:

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!
Honour’d and bless’d be the ever-green Pine!
Long may the tree, in his banner that glances,
Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line! (Canto II)

But Scott ultimately calls for peaceful union under a just ruler, and Roderick in the end pays the price for his ill-considered rebellion (I do not venture here into the question of whether or not that epithet should be applied to the Southern venture). Why should Scott’s message not have continued to be passed on to young Americans, in their English classes and in Classics Illustrated?

Alas, we – or at least our intellectual class – came to believe that Scott’s ideals, and ideas, were not nuanced enough. Scott, said people like Twain onward, portrayed people according to absurd, unlivable ideals instead of as they really are; in doing so, he impeded, or at least failed to help, the progress of the human race. Our real mission was now to transcend boundaries of clan, nation, and race so we could leave behind, once and for all, the ridiculous conflicts which these engendered.

But it was not Scott who lacked subtlety; it was us. He understood the importance of kinship and race, and who controls a narrow swathe of land, and the right of a traditional people to defend their way of life. (Though not supportive of rebellion, he certainly admired the unique virtues of the Highlanders.) He denigrated mercenary soldiers, who “drew not for their fields the sword,” fighting instead for money and adventure. He had a vision of peace between different peoples, but it was peace with mutual respect and with borders, transgressions of which would be punished. And he rightly looked to history as key to understanding the soul of a people, and saw music and poetry as coming from that same soul.

The peaceful life most of us still enjoy in the United States is not the result of our valuing “tolerance” and “diversity.” It is the product of a civilization built up by a linguistically, culturally, and racially homogeneous people, a civilization set up to enforce and propagate a transcendent moral order – just as Scott’s King James sought to do. When we begin to understand this again, Scott will no longer seem so alien to us – and his stories and songs will speak to us once again. We will come, once again, to value and cultivate a sense of personal and national honor. Meanwhile, the true aliens among us, whom we are currently inviting into our society far more quickly than we can “assimilate” them, will become clearly visible for what they are. A nobler and greater culture will become possible.

Notes

(1) The former popularity of the poem is suggested by the fact that it was the source of the last name of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass as well as the source of the Ku Klux Klan’s idea of cross burning (though that practice has little connection to the ritual described in the book). Schubert set a number of songs from The Lady to music, including the famed “Ave Maria;” and the “Boat Song,” also known as “Hail to the Chief,” is the source of the tune played for our President today. It is also the source for Rossini’s opera La donna del lago.


We’ve Lost More Than We’ll Ever Know….

April 19, 2009

When I was a teenager I yearned to leave my small Midwestern town. The place was just too small; there seemed to be nowhere to go and nothing to do. Classes at school were mainly dull, and not belonging to the small set of “popular” kids I saw little prospect of finding a nice girlfriend. Despite this, the adults in our town constantly proclaimed its all-around superiority and progressiveness. When it came time to leave, with no hesitation I chose a college in a city on the East Coast, where I was finally able to enjoy a satisfactory social and intellectual life. I was bitter enough about my high school life that when the editor of our local newspaper asked me to write a piece on how my town had influenced my college and later experiences, I told him I didn’t have anything to say. So whatever sentimentality I have about my hometown developed much later. (I now blame my own bad attitude for some of my youthful discontent, but that is another subject!)

What I did not realize was that wanting to leave my town was not merely the personal response of myself and a few friends to local conditions, but a generalized cultural phenomenon. People have been wanting to leave their small towns for much of the 20th century, but especially in the post-World War II era. Richard Davies describes the situation thus:

A destructive cycle…took hold. Camden provided a secure haven in which young people were reared and educated, but on reaching adulthood they left for greater opportunities than those available in their hometown. (p. 139)

I now appreciate the privilege of growing up in a “secure haven” much more than I did at the time. Then, I couldn’t leave fast enough.

It is, of course inevitable in a modern society that its talented members should tend to migrate to urban areas. Even regional cities suffer from this loss – the Beatles left Liverpool for London, never to return. But the loss we have experienced is much deeper than that – not, unfortunately, the mere urbanization of our society, but a widespread  disintegration. What Davies describes as happening in small towns happened at every level of society:

What went unrecognized at the time [the early 1950s] was that the social fabric, which had long provided a sense of community responsibility and unity, had begun to unravel…. Television tended to isolate families inside their homes during evening hours, reducing the amount of visiting between neighbors…. Over time, neighbors became more distant; newcomers sometimes remained strangers. Attendance at the three traditional churches became a subject of concern…. Store owners also knew that when farmers and townsfolk went shopping now, especially for major purchases, they got into their automobiles and headed out of town. (p. 155)

Reports of increased crime also began to filter onto the pages of the local newspaper. A series of break-ins of businesses and residences stunned local citizens, who began to lock their doors even during daytime hours. Few residents considered the relationship of juvenile behavior and rising crime rates to national trends because they naturally tended to view life from the perspective of their daily lives and their local community. Also, they tended to know their neighbors less, thus increasing the level of suspicion and lowering their sense of security. (p. 157)

No one could argue that the loss of community in America’s towns was compensated for by equivalent cultural gains in the cities. The suburbs people flocked to had even less community and character than the small towns. The cities kept their status as cultural centers, but have of course been devastated by crime and economic decay. Even culturally they are far from what they used to be, with symphonies and newspapers closing down constantly, and hope for good city schools expressed as a matter of form only. Urban crime, of course, has been inseparable from black, Hispanic, and other ethnic migration to the cities, a topic I won’t expand on here, but the decline of industry has been the result of economic dislocation analogous to those suffered by the small towns. As the national expansion of markets eroded the small town, the globalization of industry eroded the city, and indeed the nation itself. Or so it seems to me.

One thing is for sure: we are left a society yearning for the community and the moral order that once characterized our small towns, but at present without material or economic incentive to go back to living in such communities – if there even were a plausible way for large numbers of people to do so. Still less clear is how we could return to the social and sexual mores of a half-century ago. Can a people collectively and voluntarily give up social freedoms for the greater good? I have no idea how this can happen, though it will have to happen if our civilization is to survive.

A couple of years ago I learned of the song “Roots,” from the Show of Hands album Witness, on the Oz Conservative blog. The title track of that album is another one that can be well appreciated by traditionalists and conservatives. It describes a small village of people who have left the modern world to live in the countryside, farming and living a life of prayer looking forward to the coming Messiah. The song was apparently inspired by the artists’ visit to a religious commune.

We’ve got land, we grow food
We bake bread, and fell wood
Spring lambs in the fields
Sweet water in our hills

And at sunrise each day
We connect, we pray
We’ve got faith to spare
We bond, we share

So, sit down, stop running
He’s near, he’s coming….

The song is a fantasy, of course – I might even call it a liberal fantasy, for a life of subsistence farming is a life of hard toil, and the community desired could only be achieved by giving up much personal freedom and choice and mobility. As for the faith – can it be regained in any way other than hardship and suffering? Yet I admit it is also my fantasy, or dream, not so much to live in the countryside but to live in a true Western civilization and in a nation where my family and I are part of a greater whole.

It is becoming increasingly evident, in any case, that apart from a few areas like medicine, technical progress and improved communication and information technology are no longer improving our quality of life. Getting back to my hometown: in the 1950s one had to drive about an hour to shop in the nearest city; when I was growing up there was a mall a half-hour away. Now there is one of those ubiquitous strip malls with all the shopping one could ever hope for (I’m partial to the Barnes and Noble), about 20 minutes away. Ugly as sin, but unquestionably convenient. Yet…I recently learned another such mall is going up in the same region. We don’t need it! For those already there it only means more crowding, less green. It is obviously for the anticipated growing population, fueled by mass immigration, that the managing class of this country has signed on to. The sprawl closes in – and there are signs that urban crime is reaching the area too.

Is there a silver lining to all this loss? I believe that there is, but it is found in the bittersweet truth that only great loss will teach us the true value of our civilization, so we can begin fighting for our families, our towns, our nations again. I pray that the realization comes sooner rather than later, with as little loss as possible.

References
Richard Davies, Main Street Blues: The Decline of Small-Town America, Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1998.


W.H. Mallock on Aristocracy and the Crisis in Faith

November 16, 2008

It may be the case that a strong religious faith, learned in childhood, forms the foundation of the political and social views of most traditionalist conservatives, but my own traditionalism began in the social and political sphere and only gradually progressed to the spiritual. I prefer not to go into my own beliefs in this blog. However, it is surely true that religious faith or some sense of a reality transcending the material world is essential to true conservatism.

For me, the issue might be summarized as follows. The type of society I am a product of, love, and want to live in, is historically rooted in the Christian faith. Remove that and what is left is a society of fragmented individuals, each one left to create some kind of guide to life out of the cultural scraps that surround him. They do so in various ways. Many people I know seem to subscribe to “liberalism as religion,” with therapy replacing prayer and “diversity” and “progress” replacing God or morality; others try non-Western religions or other non-traditional spiritual practices. Meanwhile, the society itself begins to go to hell, as ours is today, with the collapse of morale, confidence, and ambition among white Americans, and the invasion from without by alien races and religions. At that point does it not make sense to look back at the world of our forebears – still visible in so many ways – and ask whether, if their society seems truer than ours, it may not also be the case that their faith was also true? Ironically, this may have nothing to do, in any conscious way at least, with a desire to save one’s own soul. No, it is the baseness, ugliness, and viciousness of life on earth itself that drives one to seek solace in higher matters.

As I was waiting in line to cast my protest vote this past November 4 (an hour and a half – what is going on in this country?), I was reading W.H. Mallock’s The New Republic (1), which first came to my attention through an excerpt in Russell Kirk’s The Portable Conservative Reader. [Update: a reader, in the Comments section, supplies a link to the text.] (I highly recommend Kirk’s excerpt to those who don’t have time to read the whole thing). This now-forgotten novel from 1878, sensational in its time, consists largely of conversations among an assortment of aristocrats, scientists, and other intellectuals gathered in an English country manor over one weekend. The host of the party assigns a “menu” of topics to discuss, such as the “Aim of Life,” “Art and Literature,” “Love and Money,” and so forth. The conversations evolve into a loose attempt to describe the ideal society, in the manner of Plato’s The Republic.

The main theme of The New Republic is the crisis caused by the rapid loss of religious faith among the English upper class in the late 19th century. Much of the interest of the novel came from the author’s parody of famous figures such as Benjamin Jowett, T.H. Huxley, Matthew Arnold (Mallock gives a funny parody of “Dover Beach”), and others, all of whom espouse post-Christian philosophies, ranging from the universalistic Christianity of Dr. Jenkinson (Jowett), who gives a sermon beginning with a quotation from the Koran (!), to the militant atheism of Mr. Saunders (W.K. Clifford). All of this is countered by a lone figure, Mr. Herbert (representing the views of John Ruskin as well as of the author), who in a dramatic final speech excoriates all present for their complacent evasion of the most important questions in life:

…you [the nominally religious people] who are so busy with your various affirmations, with your prayers, your churches, your philosophies, your revivals of old Christianities, or your new improvements on them; with your love of justice, and humanity, and toleration; it is to you that I speak. It is to you that I say that, however enlightened and however sure you may be about all other matters, you are darkened and uncertain as to this – whether there really is any God at all who can hear all the prayers you utter to Him, or whether there really is any other life at all, where the aspirations you are so proud of will be realised, and where the wrongs you are so pitiful over will be righted. (2)

We get a sense in this work of how early a profound irreligiosity had established itself among the upper class and the intellectuals in England. Four decades before the Great War, the members of the party agree with virtual unanimity that “the world” (meaning, really, Britain and the West) has undergone a profound change for the worse, that the old faith is dead and that society seems to be careening toward some kind of unknowable disaster. In the United States, the same intellectual trends (evolutionary thought, materialism, etc.) were also working their way into society, but their effect would be delayed in this more prosperous, optimistic, and still-religious country.

Mallock presents, according to John Lucas,

…an idealized portrait of the English aristocrat…[of] men who are rich, considerate, witty and urbane, besides being unfailingly accomplished poets and/or musicians: embodiments of those virtues which Mallock appears to have thought were the essence of civilization and to be found in the aristocracy and nowhere else, and which he saw as coming under constant threat from social upheavals and changes in the order of things. (3)

Mr. Herbert does devastation to the “progressive” notion of helping the poor through education, telling his listeners their moral darkness disqualifies them to do so:

You are rich, and you have leisure to think of things in what light you will, and your life is to a great extent made easy for you by the labour of others. I do not complain of that. There can be no civilisation without order, and there can be no order without subordination. Outward goods must be apportioned unequally, or there would be no outward goods to apportion. But you who have the larger share of these are bound to do something for those who have the less. I say you are bound to do so; or else sooner or later that larger share will be taken away from you. Well, and what is it you propose to do? I know your answer – I have heard it a thousand times. You will educate them. And truly, if you know how to do that properly, you will have done all you need to do. But…that is just what you do not know…You can agree about teaching them – I know this too well – countless things that you think will throw light upon life; but life itself you leave a blank darkness upon which no light can be thrown. You say nothing of what is good in it, and of what is evil. Does success in it lie in the enjoyment of bodily pleasures, or in the doing of spiritual duty? Is there anything in it that is right for its own sake, or are all things right only because of their consequences? And seeing that, if we struggle for virtue, our struggles can never be quite successful here, is there any other place where they may have, I do not say their reward, but their consummation? To these questions only two answers can be given, and one must be entirely true, and the other entirely false. But you – you dare not give either; you are too enlightened. But for the poor man surely it is not so…[if you teach him modern “Utilitarian” principles] you will but be removing a cataract from his mind’s eye that he may stare aghast and piteous at his own poverty and nakedness, or that he may gaze with a wild beast’s huger at your own truly noble prosperity which he can never taste, save in the wild beast’s way. (4)

Mr. Herbert confesses, in the end, that he, too, is a religious doubter, but that “[m]y only consolation in my misery is that at least I am inconsolable for His loss.” (5)

I believe that the restoration of a traditional order can only come about when people learn to see the truths of that order intuitively, something that becomes harder and harder when we are surrounded by a relativistic and false culture. So much has been lost; and though we can’t reverse history or “put the toothpaste back in the tube,” we must recover continuity with our past in as many ways as we can. Or as Mr. Herbert says:

…when the old fabric is all dissolved, what then? When all divinity shall have gone from love and heroism, and only utility and pleasure shall be left, what then? Then you will have to content yourselves with complete denial; or build up again the faith that you have just pulled down – you will have to be born again, and to seek a new Self.

(1) W.H. Mallock, The New Republic: Culture, Faith and Philosophy in an English Country House, with intro. by John Lucas, Leicester University Press, 1975.

(2) Mallock, 349.

(3) Lucas, in Mallock, Introduction, 19.

(4) Mallock, 351-3.

(5) Mallock, 359.


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