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The Czech Canary

A liberal reader, commenting on another of my posts:

Rod is good writer with lots of interesting and thoughtful articles on culture and especially religion. I mostly skip over the look what those totalitarian college liberals are up to today articles as they tend not to have new thoughts and just seem like attempts to whip up fear.

A reader who grew up under Czech communism, but who now lives in the US:

Hi Rod,

change_me

A thought about comments like this one:

“Creating an equivalence between a poster in an American high school promoting understanding, with imagery that can be misunderstood, and Hungarian terrorism, is a huge disrespect to Hungarian terrorism. There is no equivalence”

and many other similar ones …

What your readers do not understand is that horrors of communism did not start with people planning to murder and torture. They started with “posters in … schools promoting understanding, justice, equality”, with starry-eyed people wanting to address societal ills. It was this social reengineering that eventually and inevitably led to murder and torture.

Keep your eyes wide open. People like the Czech reader are canaries in the coal mine.

On the other hand, I keep having a slightly unnerving experience here, both in Hungary and the Czech Republic. People cannot understand the insanity coming from America, the UK, and the EU on LGBT and gender theory. It is literally incomprehensible to them. Just this morning I was talking to a seminary professor of moral theology who said that his thesis on alternative sexualities was laughed at; his colleagues could not believe that anyone would take this stuff seriously. This professor is no advocate for alternative sexualities, but he had lived and taught in the West, and he knows they are going to have to be dealing with this stuff here sooner or later.

I keep telling the people I talk to about this that they should not simply laugh this stuff off as incomprehensible. Several agreed with me that 40 years of communism served as a vaccination against susceptibility to ideological extremism, and that this might be why even atheists (most Czechs are atheists) find the gender theory types to be crackpots. But then, if you had told a lot of Americans in 1998 what would be mainstream in our country on this front in 2018, they would have laughed like the Czechs and the Hungarians laughed. But now look.

UPDATE: Reader Ragnar writes:

I can specifically remember the preacher at the church I attended in the mid 90s warning us about all this new fangled sex stuff that the culture was going to push on us. He had contacts at churches and seminaries in the Northeast and California and was convinced it would hit us soon. He focused on gay marriage and at the time, THAT seemed unbelievable to us. We were not sheltered country bumpkins, this was a city of half a million people. But even in the late 90s, it seemed pointless and crazy. I don’t think any of us took him seriously.

At another church in a smaller city a few years later, I remember a professor who had left a college in a more progressive part of the country to come to ours and he described political correctness at his former place of employment like Maoism. He detailed required employee training where a facilitator would bring faculty to tears in intense small group settings, forcing them to admit their racism, sexism, etc. It was a Struggle Session. He very solemnly said it would eventually follow him to our college but that he hoped to retire by then.

He almost made it! I remember completely dismissing both of these men as chicken littles, but I have seen it happen. They were right. So I no longer laugh at people trying to warn us of what is happening, I laugh at those who deny it.

Reader Mrs. DK writes:

Exactly. I know that we would have laughed at gender ideology when I was in college in the 1980s. As an older friend of mine said recently — The thing about gender theory is that it’s so stupid! Yet my own daughter is now injecting testosterone with the help of her university health center.

I was at an Orthodox monastery in rural Pennsylvania this past weekend, and one of the nuns told me that they have had several parents tell them that their young kids are claiming to be the opposite gender, because of something they heard at school or on the internet.

The rapid onset gender dysphoria support group which I’m in was founded this past January and has as doubled in size already. I have never seen such desperate parents. If people are not alarmed about this — well, they should be.

141 Comments (Open | Close)

141 Comments To "The Czech Canary"

#1 Comment By kevin on the left On March 14, 2018 @ 10:15 pm

“Babbit believed that when we lost the sense that human nature was inclined to evil–that it was pure & benevolent and only needed to be free–we lost the self-disciplinary virtues. “Not having to reform himself, the beautiful soul can devote himself entirely to reforming society.” That impulse to change the world ends badly, as we’ve seen, time and again.

The constant international chaos ultimately derives from the moral chaos raging within individual human hearts.”

Right, because we all know that the international system was all peaches and cream before those damn Wilsonian progressives started mucking things around. For example, Wilson forcing the very Christian and traditionalist monarchs of Russia, Germany, and Austro-Hungary to go to war a strong demonstration of the follies of perfecting human character.

#2 Comment By Patricus On March 15, 2018 @ 8:13 am

Ain’t Ben: you don’t seem to like Pres. Trump. I think he is a breath of fresh air. Can’t linger because my bull whip requires me to oppress brown people and transgenders.

#3 Comment By Jefferson Smith On March 15, 2018 @ 9:30 am

@James:

If you were in academia, would you not want to believe that you had the power to solve all the world’s problems through your work? Would you not hate those who tried to stop you?

Well, I am in academia, in fact in one of the fields most often cited as a leftist hotbed, and I have nothing like that grandiose a view of what my work might achieve. I’m mainly interested in helping my students better understand cultural products (literature, film, etc.) and learn how to make and write clearer and better-supported arguments.

And most of my colleagues seem to think roughly the same way. Our jobs are by and large a daily grind just like anyone else’s.

#4 Comment By Jefferson Smith On March 15, 2018 @ 9:41 am

Rob G:

Those principles only go as high as the top of your own head. Any universal validity they seem to have is that which is ascribed to them by their creators. On what grounds would an American Pinochet or an American Pol Pot have any reason to accept them?

But this objection isn’t unique to liberalism. If you’re on the right, there’s always somewhat further to your right as well. And what reason does that person, or anyone — not least a power-mad tyrant — ever have to accept any principles that get in his or her way? Conservative / rigorist Christianity has the same problem: If a new Torquemada started up a new Spanish Inquisition, you could say he was ignoring the actual principles of Christianity, failing to treat them as having universal validity. And you would be right. But how would that stop him? How would those principles stop him, unless he chose to accept them and thus let himself be stopped?

The principles of conservative Christianity — or any other kind of conservativism — are not self-enforcing; no principles are. I suppose you could argue that ultimately, God enforces the principles of Christianity — but clearly not in this life or in real time, since plenty of evil and anti-Christian people seem to do just fine.

#5 Comment By Jefferson Smith On March 15, 2018 @ 9:43 am

Correction: There’s always someone further to your right as well.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 15, 2018 @ 11:15 am

It started with priests, students, teachers, the petty nobility employed in the lower ranks of the Tzar’s bureacracy.

You’re talking a one hundred year period to sustain that thesis Giuseppe. If you start with the Decembrists… but how many permutations did the inchoate longing for revolution go through before the October Revolution? There were decades of a decidedly proletarian movement, strikes, demonstrations, etc. Generations of narodniki were frustrated that the peasants remained a largely conservative class unmoved by appeals against the quasi-feudal landowners, and that led many non-Bolsheviks to turn to small, disciplined terror cells in a futile effort to bring a revolt to life. Ultimately, what brought the Romanov’s down is that they exhausted their conscript armies, the rank and file soldiers refused to carry on the war and even turned the guns against the state, and yes, at that point every political party was looking at “how do we ride this wave”?

Title IX: The fundamental problem is that Title IX does not in fact vest the Department of Education with special expertise in what constitutes a male or what constitutes a female. It is abundantly clear from legislative history that the authors of Title IX considered those to be so self-evident and universally understood that nobody needed to spell them out. As indeed, for most of us, they are. To paraphrase a Supreme Court ruling on the extent of congressional power, the Dept. of Education has the power to enforce what congress wrote, not to redefine fundamental terms.

#7 Comment By CMPT On March 15, 2018 @ 11:48 am

Maire:

“What a pathetic straw man fallacy that I keep seeing in this combox. No one thinks that all attempts to address societal ills will end in chaos. . . It reminds me of the popular conservative maxim ‘not all Trump voters are racist.’ There’s nothing wrong with pointing that out but let’s be honest, liberals are not really wrong when they point out that all racists are Trump voters.

By the same token, not all “starry-eyed” dreamers are Marxist totalitarians in the making. But every Marxist totalitarian regime was originally legitimized by people who were dangerous in direct proportion to the degree to which they believed in equality of outcome (aka “equity”) over all else: over freedom of expression, over freedom of assembly, over freedom of religion, over freedom of conscience, and so on.”

First of all, neither the high school flyer, nor the baby’s tee-shirt advocated for “equality of outcome.” In fact, none of the targets of Rod’s derision have advocated for equality of “outcome.” They’ve advocated for equal treatment under the law and for the same degree of respect and dignity that society grants to non-gays and non-transgenders. For reasons that have escaped most of us, it’s unclear why any of this is offensive.

Secondly, there’s nothing inherently wrong in valuing equal treatment over any of the other ethics you listed such as freedom of expression, assembly or religion. There’s nothing wrong with elevating the freedoms of expression, assembly and religion, but many well-functioning and desirable societies now and in the past haven’t elevated each of these, or any one of them, above all other values.

Further, no one in these comboxes has even bothered to try showing that these high school kids and babies believe in equality of treatment “over all else.” Nor has anyone articulated any danger that any of these individuals actually present or explained the chain of events that leads from a harmless message on a flyer or tee-shirt to torture and murder.

Lastly, the comparison between saying “Trump’s voters are racist,” on one hand, and starry-eyed, idealism will lead to torture and murder, on the other hand, fails because, by your own concession, most racists are Trump voters, but, as all the comments you criticize point out, most starry-eyed idealism does not lead to torture and murder. In fact, in almost never leads to that. Most often, starry-eyed idealism leads to . . . nothing. Because it most often leads to nothing, it’s silly to suggest that in this case it will lead to torture and murder.

#8 Comment By JonF On March 15, 2018 @ 12:47 pm

Re: Yes it did. It started with priests, students, teachers, the petty nobility employed in the lower ranks of the Tzar’s bureacracy.

Giuseppe, The things you cite involved people pointing out injustices and dysfunctions in a nation the was beset with injustice and dysfunction. Only a vanishingly small number of those people were Communists or even Marxists. Most were ordinary folk who wanted to see Russia do a lot better than it was. Is it your contention here that we must never dare criticize the government or other power centers lest we loose chaos on the world? But the fault in Russia lay not with the would be reformers but with a regime that was incapable of reforming itself and instead doubled down on stupidity and oppression. Alexander III, Nicholas II and their assorted henchmen are far more to to blame for the Debacle than anyone else save Lenin and his lackeys themselves.

#9 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On March 15, 2018 @ 2:04 pm

Thomas Hobbes wrote:
Wanting to address societies ills does not inevitably lead to murder and torture.

Maire wrote:
What a pathetic straw man fallacy that I keep seeing in this combox. No one thinks that all attempts to address societal ills will end in chaos. Exactly zero people believe that, because if they did, society would have long ago collapsed. It reminds me of the popular conservative maxim ‘not all Trump voters are racist.’ There’s nothing wrong with pointing that out but let’s be honest, liberals are not really wrong when they point out that all racists are Trump voters.

I wish it was a straw man, but the reason I said it and the reason it keeps coming up in these comments is because that is what Rod’s Czech reader said. Hopefully we was being needlessly hyperbolic.

#10 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On March 15, 2018 @ 2:20 pm

I said:
Russia’s fall to the Bolsheviks did not start with posters in schools promoting understanding, justice, equality either. It started with an aristocracy that completely and utterly ignored the needs of the majority of Russians until they could take no more.

VikingLS said:
Look I believe you honestly believe this narrative, but the only political movement in the history of Russia that started on the peasant/worker level was the Pugachev rebellion. All of the rest started at the top, and the important ones, Communism and Anarchism did start at the university level.

I’m sure you have a better grasp of Russian history than I (given your time there), but you are completely missing my point. We had a “healthy” communist movement here in the states at the same time (with lots of intellectual support), yet we did not slowly slide into a totalitarian communist regime. Communists came to power because the Russian monarchy collapsed, and the Red army still had to defeat the White and Green armies (were there others too?) in a civil war for the privilege of crushing the Russian people under their boot.

In Germany there was an intellectually led Communist movement too, yet it was the anti-communists that came out ahead due to the failures of the Weimar Republic.

In the absence of outside force, it is typically massive failure in the existing power structure that leads to extremist taking power.

#11 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On March 15, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

VikingLS said:
“Well I am not saying there aren’t ANY pedophiles, but rest assured the Church is dealing with the situation.”

I’ve heard this song and dance before.

Except there is no hierarchy amongst liberals to be dealing with any of this, we’re just a loose coalition of people that agree on some things. I am not making an appeal to authority, I’m saying many of Rod’s posts on the topic are silly overreactions. The stuff going on at Evergreen and Reed (which I pointed Rod too) is terrible and no platforming speakers is against everything academia stands for. On the other hand, things going on in gender studies programs and the like (probably anything in something called the enchanted broccoli forest too) don’t deserve any attention (they’re just sandboxes for the liberal crazies to play in where they won’t disrupt others while the university takes their parents money), and attention from conservative media is actually harmful because it gives them attention and makes them seem credible while making people on the left who otherwise disagree with those crazies come to their defense against the common enemy. Like the neo-nazis they should be protected in their right to make fools of themselves until they actually violate university rules or break laws.

#12 Comment By TOS On March 15, 2018 @ 3:41 pm

JWJ —

Thank you for a perfectly illustrative article. The link you provided is to a Daily Mail article that seemingly documents exactly my point: the kid who asserted his privilege to continually interrupt class because he just knows that he’s right.

Of course, that’s not how he framed it to the right wing media. They didn’t focus on his belligerence clearly documented in the professor’s disciplinary letter, because that destroys the “white males are victims” narrative.

As I said in my original comment, context matters. If there is an open discussion of gender in a classroom, and all participants are respectful (even if they disagree fervently) then there should be no disparate treatment of viewpoints. If a teacher asks students to listen to a transgender speaker and this kid keeps shouting his righteous opinions instead, then he should be kicked out.

Hopefully the same would occur if there was an invited right wing speaker and a bunch of unruly liberal kids kept interrupting. Dreher has posted a number of such stories, and he’s right that the lefty kids should be kicked out for disruption. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander (to use a gendered expression).

#13 Comment By Mark VA On March 15, 2018 @ 9:08 pm

Kevin on the left:

Please note I said “hoped for end result” – this applies to Poland under Communism, as well as to the increasingly clarifying situation in the USA. Even though the two forces are not of comparable strength, they share similar ideology and goals;

The Catholic Church in Poland is often called “Opoka” (The Shield), and not for nothing, as you’ve noted in an oblique way;

So, Kevin, what kind of leftist are you?

#14 Comment By VJ On March 15, 2018 @ 10:44 pm

What most people don’t understand is that it is normal for preteens and teens to partly identify with the opposite sex–it is basically just being aware of one’s anima/animus. Everybody has aspects of the opposite sex in them. Kids eventually grow out of this and realize they are supposed to live as the sex God/Nature gave them.

Another angle on this is that perhaps they were the other sex in their most recent past life and still feel more like that gender! Their task in this lifetime is to learn about being the sex they were given.

#15 Comment By CMPT On March 16, 2018 @ 2:54 am

Rob G, responding to my argument that a prediction without an expiration date is of no value: I need not have an “expiration date” in mind when I say that I fear for the world that my grandchildren will be raised in.”

This isn’t a prediction. It’s an expression of concern over current conditions. It’s a way of saying current trends are troubling and if they continue it’s quite possible something bad may happen. That’s it, and if that’s as far as this blog went no one would take issue with these “predictions.”

However, this blog has moved well beyond expressing concern to outright predicting specific constitutional rights will be taken away. In support of these predictions, we are asked to heed the “analysis” of an anonymous reader from a former communist country who, based on the relayed experiences of her parents or grandparents, assures us that a high school kid’s flyer advocating fair treatment for gays is the first step toward torture and murder.

If Rod were to tell us he stands by his prediction that these things will occur, but he has no idea when they will happen or that they won’t happen for 500 years, no one could be criticized for ignoring this prediction. We would safely ignore it not because we believe these rights are permanent, but because we know that, given enough time, anything could happen and any one thing is as likely to occur as any other thing. But he doesn’t want us to ignore the prediction; he wants us to heed it and take some kind of action in response to it – even though the predicted loss may not happen for 500 years.

You don’t have to be a transgenderized social justice warrior who hates traditional Christians to see the obvious flaw in this approach.

#16 Comment By Oakinhouston On March 16, 2018 @ 11:52 am

@kgasmart

“What indeed, if that is the boy’s opinion. Is the boy not permitted to have an opinion?

But, this opinion could be empirically disproven. How about gender?”

So we can empirically disprove the idea that men are more intelligent than women. Good to know so we can send those proofs to groups like the Sunni Muslims, Quiverfull, or the Fundamentalist Mormons.

And of course, you could also prove that the brain has a gender image different than what genitals show and therefore gender can be different from sex.

The boy’s opiniom is his opinion only and has no relevance about what is true or not. He can think whatever and be completely wrong. His opinion deserves the same respect or lack of respect he’s willing to give the opinion of others.

#17 Comment By John Spragge On March 16, 2018 @ 8:29 pm

Quoting kgasmart:

“What if – in those schools – I, as a student, stand up and say I don’t believe that a girl who changes her gender is actually a boy?

I don’t believe it and I won’t believe it.”

That would depend on the situation. If you said it to justify bullying, assaulting or inciting others to ostracize a transgender child (or the child o a transgender parent), I would hope and expect the school would take the appropriate disciplinary measures.

If, on the other hand, you stated it as a proposition, I would hope and expect the teacher would present you with evidence of men living as women and vice versa through history (we have a huge amount of it), the evidence for variations in gender roles in and throughout cultures. I’d expect the teacher to refer you to the career of Alessandro Moreschi and his predecessors and to the hijra of India, and what they say about chromosomal sex, biological presentation, and the social phenomenon of gender.

And I’d expect the teacher to call for a reasoned answer, based on a real effort to understand the actual history, biology, and sociology of human gender in all its true complexity. And if you didn’t have one, I’d hope the teacher would go back to my first point: you have an absolute right to your opinion, even if I disagree with it and in fact even if I can rigorously refute it. You just don’t have the right to inflict any sort of harm on another person because of it.

#18 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 16, 2018 @ 9:18 pm

Oakinhouston, has in entirely escaped you that the boy is, at least hypothetically, threatened with punishment for HAVING and expressing an opinion?

So, Kevin, what kind of leftist are you?

I often disagree with Kevin, and have doubts he is any kind of leftist at all, but is he really obligated to recite one of a list of prescribed -isms? I thought we all agree that has not been a good idea.

If a teacher asks students to listen to a transgender speaker and this kid keeps shouting his righteous opinions instead, then he should be kicked out..

Fair point, but, it is equally true that those who try to repress unwanted points of view make spurious claims of rudeness and violence, and, that those who splutter rudely and interrupt when others are speaking whine that they are being punished for their opinion. It can be darn difficult to tell who, if anyone is telling the truth.

The 1905 revolution in Russia started with an Orthodox priest, but became a revolution because (1) masses of people were inspired to follow him, (2) brutal experience convinced him and those he briefly led that the government was unresponsive to their needs. That doesn’t mean the revolution began in the Orthodox church.

#19 Comment By Josep On March 16, 2018 @ 10:55 pm

@ Cavin
Well, that’s a surprise considering that at most 2% of Japanese are Christian. But nonetheless, it’s excellent to hear (read?) your anecdote.

#20 Comment By Rob G On March 17, 2018 @ 10:17 am

“But this objection isn’t unique to liberalism. If you’re on the right, there’s always somewhat further to your right as well.”

True, but conservatism/traditionalism does not possess the same inherent drive for change that progressivism does. Conservatives don’t believe in decline in the same way that liberals believe in Progress. We see decline as a symptom, not as some sort of endgame. But if you take the necessity of progress out of progressivism it becomes incoherent.

“If a new Torquemada started up a new Spanish Inquisition, you could say he was ignoring the actual principles of Christianity, failing to treat them as having universal validity. And you would be right. But how would that stop him? How would those principles stop him, unless he chose to accept them and thus let himself be stopped?”

It may not be possible to stop him, but that doesn’t negate the principle that it would be right to do so. But that principle must, if it is to bear any sort of universal validity, be founded on something that rises above either John Rawls’ or Torquemada’s hairline. Otherwise, morally speaking, it’s all just opinion.

#21 Comment By Rob G On March 17, 2018 @ 10:29 am

“We would safely ignore it not because we believe these rights are permanent, but because we know that, given enough time, anything could happen and any one thing is as likely to occur as any other thing. But he doesn’t want us to ignore the prediction; he wants us to heed it and take some kind of action in response to it – even though the predicted loss may not happen for 500 years.”

You seem to be implying that a prediction must be both specific and unconditional to be validly considered a prediction, otherwise it can simply be ignored. There is a false binary there. Many types of predictions rely on conditions, and it’s the conditions that make them non-specific or “open-ended.” If even a weather forecaster gets this you should too.

#22 Comment By Cavin On March 17, 2018 @ 11:28 am

As I look over the comments of Rob G and others, it strikes me that social conservatives are losing on this issue because they fail to acknowledge the degree to which their own program represents something of a Maoist lie. After all, social conservatives aren’t promoting a more evidence-based examination of gender and sexuality. To the contrary, social conservatives have invested most of their energy into the Maoist program of trying to enforce heterosexuality as a normative social identity.

As someone who grew up in a non-Western culture that was largely uninfluenced by Freudian social theory, the concept of heterosexuality as a normative social identity has always struck me as a bit forced. As a teenager moving back to the US from Japan, I was confused by the notion that one’s sexuality should be central to social identity. The social value placed on heterosexuality felt very confining and oppressive to me.

The problem with American social conservatism is that it’s not well-grounded in reality. It suffers from much the same kind of Maoist group-think and thought policing that one sees on the Left. In that sense, American social conservatives, and especially evangelical Christians, are more akin to fascists than to true conservatives.

I read through Deneen’s recent book on a long flight yesterday. Most of his critiques are apposite. The book ultimately fails, though, because Deneen has no positive prescription to offer. The book seems to operate with the assumption that we face a dichotomous choice between a secular neo-Maoism and a “Christian” neo-fascism. Many of us find neither of these alternatives to be palatable. So, we’re content to let the two parties destroy each other in the hopes that something else can emerge in their place. My own social practices are fairly conservative. Even so, I have a hard time embracing the authoritarian neo-fascist program that generally passes for “conservatism” in this country.

Yes, left-wing gender ideology is silly. But it’s no less silly than the ridiculous notion that we should construct social identities around heterosexuality.

#23 Comment By BadReligion On March 17, 2018 @ 6:35 pm

Thomas Hobbes:

“Communists came to power because the Russian monarchy collapsed, and the Red army still had to defeat the White and Green armies (were there others too?) in a civil war for the privilege of crushing the Russian people under their boot.”

Yes, there most certainly were others: the Anarchists (Black Army, you could say)!
[1]

#24 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 17, 2018 @ 11:34 pm

Mahkno didn’t get very far because he was almost universally despised as an overgrown bandit with pretensions to govern. He maintained the existence of his republic by allying with either the Whites or the Reds, but either one would have wiped him out once they gained ascendancy. More significant were the Greens, but they tended to also break down in practice into white-greens and red-greens. This was not Green in the modern American sense, but agricultural peasants out to get something for themselves that neither a restored landed autocracy (whites) or a collectivizing proletarian party (red) was motivated to deliver.

#25 Comment By JonF On March 18, 2018 @ 7:19 am

Re: True, but conservatism/traditionalism does not possess the same inherent drive for change that progressivism does

This is just not true– at least as far as political conservatism on the ground goes. Movement Conservatism is about promoting an america über alles foreign policy and promoting the owning class über alles at home. Both involved change on a grand scale: warfare abroad and the immiseration of the working class at home by a vast transfer of resources and income. Maybe in some Platonic paradise conservatism is not about change– but in the US as it exists no one ever told Paul Ryan and Dick Cheney that.
As for Trumpism, it isn’t conservative, but seeks reactionary, revanchist goals as radical as anything ob the left.

#26 Comment By Jefferson Smith On March 18, 2018 @ 8:32 am

@Rob G:

….that principle must, if it is to bear any sort of universal validity, be founded on something that rises above either John Rawls’ or Torquemada’s hairline. Otherwise, morally speaking, it’s all just opinion.

Yes, it is of course “all just opinion.” As are conservative princples. Interesting that you should mention Rawls. His famous “Veil of Ignorance” thought experiment is basically a variant of the Golden Rule: it amounts to saying, “Don’t, as a citizen, support condemning others to conditions to which you would not want to be condemned.” For Rawls, this is a logical deduction from the realities of human experience rather than a sentence in an ancient book. Of course, it’s arguable. But finding it an ancient book, or in the mouth of the sages of old, doesn’t make it any less an opinion or any less arguable. You may claim that those sources carry some higher authority, but that’s also an opinion. It’s turtles all the way down.

True, but conservatism/traditionalism does not possess the same inherent drive for change that progressivism does. Conservatives don’t believe in decline in the same way that liberals believe in Progress. We see decline as a symptom, not as some sort of endgame. But if you take the necessity of progress out of progressivism it becomes incoherent.

This is the right’s usual conflation of liberalism with “progressivism,” specifically its most radical and utopian kinds. When I speak of liberalism, I’m referring to a set of beliefs that does include limiting principles. Liberals might favor social reforms, but not to any extreme or at any cost. Liberalism is heavily based on the idea of “neutral rules of general applicability,” which is to say, rules that should be held stable over time and should be followed even when they generate results disadvantageous to you in a given case. That is, you don’t respond to an election loss or an adverse vote in Congress with violent revolution; you don’t respond to losing a lawsuit by firebombing the court building; you don’t respond to speech you disagree with by trying to shut it down. People who don’t observe this principle have ceased to be liberals.

Again, the exact same thing can be said of the other side. The conservatism that you say has no inherent drive for change exists alongside of, and overlaps with, other movements on the right that do seek radical and sometimes violent change. You can say that such a movement isn’t truly “conservative.” I would agree. But by the same token, the radical progressivism you refer to is distinguishable from liberalism — and in fact liberals criticize it too. You should see the immense amount of flak that a solid liberal like Jonathan Chait gets every day in his Twitter feed from people to his left who don’t like his criticisms of their goals and tactics.

#27 Comment By Jefferson Smith On March 18, 2018 @ 9:54 am

@Rob G, the other problem with your theory of an inevitable ratcheting leftward is that there are plenty of counterexamples from actual history. To name a few:

The Progressive Movement of the turn of the 20th century was accompanied by calls among some theorists and ideologues (and many novelists) for a more total transformation in which expertise and efficiency would rule the whole society, with all social problems solved through managerial technique and data-driven administration. That didn’t happen. We got city managers and a few new federal operations like the FDA, and then the ratcheting stopped. Where the social experimentation clearly went too far, as with Prohibition, it not only didn’t ratchet further, it was repealed.

Likewise, the New Deal produced some reforms that proved to be wildly popular. Critics warned that they were leading toward Communism, and the Communists themselves — who were more numerous then and who saw the New Deal as far too conservative and limited — hoped they would and were prepared to take the lead if given the chance. So was there a Communist Revolution in the US? Did the Communist Party even so much as become competitive in congressional or presidential elections? Nope.

During the Civil Rights era, there were of course more radical “Black Power” movements that thought the King-style reforms far too meagre. Proposals were seriously floated for things like a black homeland; one of these was called GAMAL, because it would have involved turning over most or all of the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana to black rule. Calls for black reparations of other kinds were also abroad in the land.

Did any of that happen? Of course not. We got, again, some new federal laws and some affirmative action programs. You could argue that even some of this was an overreach, but regardless, the ratchet went no further.

You say, there’s always someone further to your left. Yes indeed. That was true in each of those cases too. But those people further to the left didn’t get their way. The further you go from the political center toward either left or right, the harder it is to mobilize people around your increasingly radical and disruptive vision. It’s a bell curve, with the number of adherents, followers and true believers thinning out dramatically at the tail ends.

And then, when the more radical path isn’t taken, the fact that it was ever seriously proposed, and the people who did so, become just historical footnotes. Hence they drop out of your analysis, and we get this notion that there’s always an inexorable ratcheting. At best, we can say that there are always those who would like to see such a ratcheting, but there is nothing like any assurance that they’ll get their way. The odds are very much against them.

#28 Comment By BadReligion On March 18, 2018 @ 11:54 am

“Mahkno didn’t get very far because he was almost universally despised as an overgrown bandit with pretensions to govern.”

He was an anarchist, thus only commanding with the consent of his troops et al. The perception that he had “pretensions to govern” is revealing, in that it reflects the inability of the Reds and the Whites to understand the nature of anarchism (or libertarian socialism more broadly, see Lenin’s “Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder”).

#29 Comment By Rob G On March 18, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

“This is just not true– at least as far as political conservatism on the ground goes. Movement Conservatism is about promoting an america über alles foreign policy and promoting the owning class über alles at home. Both involved change on a grand scale: warfare abroad and the immiseration of the working class at home by a vast transfer of resources and income.”

“Movement Conservatism” is not conservatism but a form of right-liberalism.

“For Rawls, this is a logical deduction from the realities of human experience rather than a sentence in an ancient book. Of course, it’s arguable. But finding it an ancient book, or in the mouth of the sages of old, doesn’t make it any less an opinion or any less arguable. You may claim that those sources carry some higher authority, but that’s also an opinion.”

Funny — the founders didn’t agree with you. Once you say “We hold these truths to be self-evident” you’re in the territory of metaphysics. So which is it — does morality have a metaphysical back-up or doesn’t it? If it does, then it has some level of basis in reality that ultimately transcends opinion. Otherwise, there’s no difference whatsoever between Rawls and Torquemada other than preference.

“You say, there’s always someone further to your left. Yes indeed. That was true in each of those cases too. But those people further to the left didn’t get their way.”

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But the ratcheting effect almost inevitably occurs either way. The process happens by creep, not by leaps and bounds, and the creep is virtually never ratcheted backwards.

As you say, liberalism and progressivism can be distinguished, but there is a fair amount of overlap which makes stark divisions difficult. In many ways today’s progressivism is post-60’s liberalism on steroids, as many liberals since then have bought into cultural progressivism. There may be a difference of degree, but not of kind.

#30 Comment By Thrice A Viking On March 18, 2018 @ 4:49 pm

Most of the last few comments deal with either how conservatism is about as radical as progressivism, or that Movement Conservatism is not worthy of the word. I side with the latter. Indeed, I would go further and ask if there can be a true conservatism in an age of constant technological, and thereby – to a large extent – social change? I’m inclined to say “No”. If anyone is inclined to answer that, feel free.

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 18, 2018 @ 6:49 pm

He was an anarchist, thus only commanding with the consent of his troops et al.

That’s not how anarchism works in practice. There is always a Top Dog, a Dear Leader, a tough guy to be reckoned with, who leads obedient troops to victory, or defeat, and cracks heads of those who diverge. Since there are no laws, there is no appeal process. Those suppressed are not true anarchists, by definition. He may have had a rough consent, but there was also a considerable degree of intimidation. Pure anarchism, of course follows the slogan “Anarchists of the world, disperse.” But Mahkno didn’t, and if he had, he wouldn’t have had an army.

#32 Comment By Jefferson Smith On March 18, 2018 @ 7:53 pm

Rob G:

There may be a difference of degree, but not of kind.

Seems to me that accepting the principle of neutral rules of general applicability, and limiting one’s efforts accordingly, is different in kind from rejecting it.

So which is it — does morality have a metaphysical back-up or doesn’t it? If it does, then it has some level of basis in reality that ultimately transcends opinion. Otherwise, there’s no difference whatsoever between Rawls and Torquemada other than preference.

I think it does have a “metaphysical back-up,” but I don’t think that gets us free of the realm of opinion because opinions still differ as to what is, in fact, metaphysically true, vs. what is merely an effort to claim some ultimate justification for what really are just temporary social arrangements. There were people, for instance, who thought that racial hierarchies reflected or were inscribed in the fundamental order of the universe. The problem with accepting the moral counsel of someone claiming metaphysical justification is that the person you’re speaking with might be just a bad metaphysician, one whose opinions about metaphysics are wrong and should be discounted.

#33 Comment By BadReligion On March 18, 2018 @ 10:50 pm

“That’s not how anarchism works in practice. There is always a Top Dog, a Dear Leader, a tough guy to be reckoned with, who leads obedient troops to victory, or defeat, and cracks heads of those who diverge. Since there are no laws, there is no appeal process. Those suppressed are not true anarchists, by definition. He may have had a rough consent, but there was also a considerable degree of intimidation. Pure anarchism, of course follows the slogan “Anarchists of the world, disperse.” But Mahkno didn’t, and if he had, he wouldn’t have had an army.”

Not so, as that reflects neither consent nor consensus. There is a division of labor, but it only occurs under those principles.

#34 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On March 19, 2018 @ 12:48 am

BadReligion says:
Yes, there most certainly were others: the Anarchists (Black Army, you could say)!
[1]

Ah yes, thank you!

Siarlys Jenkins says:
That’s not how anarchism works in practice.

Anarchism works in practice??? Next you’ll be telling me communism works in practice. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

#35 Comment By Rob G On March 19, 2018 @ 6:59 am

~~I think it does have a “metaphysical back-up,” but I don’t think that gets us free of the realm of opinion because opinions still differ as to what is, in fact, metaphysically true, vs. what is merely an effort to claim some ultimate justification for what really are just temporary social arrangements.~~

That’s not what the atheists/materialists are saying; they deny the metaphysical root of morality tout court. But it doesn’t seem consistent for a liberal who accepts the idea of a metaphysical foundation for morality to come to the defense of those who don’t simply on the basis that “we can’t know.” Agnosticism in that regard shows itself as little different from a pragmatic atheism.

#36 Comment By BadReligion On March 19, 2018 @ 9:23 am

“Anarchism works in practice??? Next you’ll be telling me communism works in practice. Sorry, couldn’t resist.”

Anarchism does, as a matter of fact. (As for communism, I am emphatically only referring to anarcho-communism and some other strains that fall under the libertarian socialist umbrella.) Note that this is a big part of why power and privilege go completely ballistic when confronted with anarchists who are making progress.

See the Ukraine Free Territory (and other left-wing anti-Bolshevik movements), Rojava today, Revolutionary Catalonia (among other examples in Spain), the Paris Commune, the Zapatistas, and many others.

Also, regarding anarchist-influenced (but often watered-down) movements that were able to avoid confrontation of that sort, see Mondragon, and the kibbutz movements.

#37 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 19, 2018 @ 12:52 pm

Find something that works. Label it anarchist even if the actual participants didn’t think so. Ergo, anarchism works.

Except Ukraine Free Territory didn’t last long enough to be evaluated as a success or failure, what holds Rojava together is definitely not an anarchist party, Catalonia never developed as anything but a war time expedient, the Paris Commune was Marxist, the Zapatistas were effectively democratic centralist in organization…

Not so, as that reflects neither consent nor consensus.

Very much so… what you offer is the distance between theory and practice.

Thomas Hobbes: everything that has even happened “works” in practice. Whether it delivers beneficial results is a separate question. By their works do we know them.

#38 Comment By BadReligion On March 19, 2018 @ 1:54 pm

“Except Ukraine Free Territory didn’t last long enough to be evaluated as a success or failure, what holds Rojava together is definitely not an anarchist party, Catalonia never developed as anything but a war time expedient, the Paris Commune was Marxist, the Zapatistas were effectively democratic centralist in organization…”

There’s never “pure” anything when we’re talking about ideologies and praxis and whatever. Anarchism is a huge part of Rojava’s essence, and its principles are helping to hold it together. If anything, the revolutionary practices of the anarchists were seen as living out their principles, and essential to the war effort, not an expediency. The Paris Commune involved a great many anarchists, and was heavily influenced by them.

And so on.

#39 Comment By Jefferson Smith On March 19, 2018 @ 6:04 pm

@Rob G:

But it doesn’t seem consistent for a liberal who accepts the idea of a metaphysical foundation for morality to come to the defense of those who don’t simply on the basis that “we can’t know.”

I was defending liberalism as having internal restraints — or, to be more precise, as having or not having them to the same degree as conservative political philosophies. “We can’t know” is just a statement of what I see as the reality of the matter. Conservatives are always urging us to face reality and not sugar-coat it, right? When it comes to Ultimate Things, there’s just a lot that no one actually “knows” and that has to be taken (or not) on faith.

However, I do think liberalism is, let’s say, highly responsive to the realities of life in a world populated by a species with the qualities and faculties of human beings. I think that’s why it evolved in the first place and (broadly defined) became the principal set of political assumptions driving the organization and governance of the world’s most advanced nations. Notice that I said it’s responsive to the conditions of human life; it wouldn’t work or be appropriate for societies of ants or bees, and probably not for dolphins or whales or other primates, perhaps not even for other human communities living under very different conditions (though there would be pressure to reinvent it even in those situations, I believe). Granted, there are some individuals who aren’t cut out for it, and who would or do probably thrive better under more authoritarian or otherwise illiberal systems. I don’t think that’s true of people in the aggregate, though.

An interesting question is whether liberalism would be the best approach to organizing the existence of human beings if we did have full knowledge of Ultimate Things. In the presence of the Beatific Vision, would there be any point to liberal principles or arrangements? Maybe not. Which is to say, one of the realities to which it’s responsive is that we are not in that presence, but instead consigned to a situation in which people — who, apparently, evolved to disagree a lot — still disagree about Ultimate Things, and have demonstrated a disturbing willingness to fight each other over them.

#40 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 19, 2018 @ 9:28 pm

Anarchism is a huge part of Rojava’s essence, and its principles are helping to hold it together.

Could you elucidate on that? Its not self-evident. I remember when every communist splinter believed it had captured control of the hearts of any body of strikers after writing a half-assed “news” article about it without a couple of badly focused pictures in their widely unread newspaper. I have yet to meet anarchists who are not equally opportunistic.

I could respect “less than pure.” I don’t mistake “nonexistent” for 57 percent pure.

#41 Comment By Rob G On March 21, 2018 @ 6:24 am

‘“We can’t know” is just a statement of what I see as the reality of the matter.’

To say we can’t know anything “metaphysical” with certainty is tantamount to saying we can’t know anything at all with certainty, other than what logic and empirical evidence tell us. But that’s an epistemological dead end, and we’re right back where we started.