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Gotta Serve Somebody, Millennials

Ross Douthat really does routinely show how thoughtful, and thought-provoking, a conservative columnist who, in part owing to his generational status, doesn’t see the world from the shopworn ideological point of view that’s too common on the contemporary right. Today, he writes about how the only ism that excites the Millennials is Individualism [1] — this, according to new Pew polling data. Yes, they’re more liberal on the surface, but, well, it’s more complicated than you might think. Douthat:

So the really interesting question about the millennials isn’t whether they’ll all be voting Democratic when Chelsea Clinton runs for president. It’s whether this level of individualism — postpatriotic, postfamilial, disaffiliated — is actually sustainable across the life cycle, and whether it can become a culture’s dominant way of life.

One can answer “yes” to this question cheerfully or pessimistically — with the optimism of a libertarian who sees such individualism as a liberation from every form of oppression and control, or the pessimism of a communitarian who sees social isolation, atomization and unhappiness trailing in its wake.

But one can also answer “no,” and argue that the human desire for community and authority cannot be permanently buried — in which case the most important question in an era of individualism might be what form of submission it presages.

This was the point raised in 1953 by Robert Nisbet’s “Quest for Community [2],” arguably the 20th century’s most important work of conservative sociology. (I wrote the introduction when it was reissued.) Trying to explain modern totalitarianism’s dark allure, Nisbet argued that it was precisely the emancipation of the individual in modernity — from clan, church and guild — that had enabled the rise of fascism and Communism.

In the increasing absence of local, personal forms of fellowship and solidarity, he suggested, people were naturally drawn to mass movements, cults of personality, nationalistic fantasias. The advance of individualism thus eventually produced its own antithesis — conformism, submission and control.

Read the whole thing. It’s a classic social conservative point: the idea that mediating institutions — family, church, and other associations — are what guarantee our liberties, and protect us from totalitarian control. T.S. Eliot’s gloss on this truth:

So long…as we consider finance, industry, trade, agriculture merely as competing interests to be reconciled from time to time as best they may, so long as we consider “education” as a good in itself of which everyone has a right to the utmost, without any ideal of the good life for society or for the individual, we shall move from one uneasy compromise to another. To the quick and simple organization of society for ends which, being only material and worldly, must be as ephemeral as worldly success, there is only one alternative. As political philosophy derives its sanction from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality. The term “democracy,” as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike––it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.

Hey folks, I’ll be flying to Grand Rapids today (speaking Monday night at 7pm at Cornerstone University — come say hi!), so approving comments is going to be hit-and-miss. You’ll next hear from me Sunday night. Over and out.

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79 Comments To "Gotta Serve Somebody, Millennials"

#1 Comment By HeartRight On March 16, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

‘Spain did carry out mass executions of communists, socialists, and other leftists, some 300,000 or them, but execution of political enemies is not generally considered to be genocide.

Such actions are generally considered to be the hallmark of a totalitarian government. You are defining totalitarianism pretty strictly if your definition excludes such regimes. Or, you don’t bother to actually think about what you are writing. One or the other, I’m not sure which.

Ah, I see. Just because Eliot had some political views that you disagree with, you consider yourself free to ignore him as beneath your notice.

No, I find his poetry quite interesting. But it is true that when I disagree with someone politically, it follows tautologically that I am inclined to disagree with them politically and that, in general, I find admirers of fascism to have very little to say to me on the best ways to combat totalitarianism. I honestly thought that in polite society admiration of fascism was a settled issue, but I guess I’m wrong.

Considering that the vast majority of mass murder in the 20th century took place at the hands of progressives [3]
I find this a most interesting diatribe.

Personally speaking, I find that persons who spend too much time opposing fascism are typically less than totally committed to eradicating every last vestige of anarchism, marxism and communism.

In the bandwidth between George Orwell [ I fear a reference to Michael Foot would be lost in translation ] and Iohannis Metaxas, nothing is an enemy. Outside of that bandwidth, everything is an enemy!

#2 Comment By Jay On March 17, 2014 @ 3:36 am

Personally speaking, I find that persons who spend too much time opposing fascism are typically less than totally committed to eradicating every last vestige of anarchism, marxism and communism.

I find this sort of defense of fascism-love intellectually bankrupt. “Commies are bad, so we have to love Franco.” But even if it was worth considering, it is beside my point, which is that religious institutions, far from mediating against the rise of cruel fascist regimes, were instead often enthusiastic supporters of them. For instance, Spain, France, Italy, Croatia (as another poster mentioned), Slovakia (which was governed by a priest), Hungary.

It is true that the churches were hostile to communism and that this was a factor in their stance, but what does that really have to do with my point. If anything, it reinforces it, in that these religious institutions were clearly only too happy to endorse totalitarian governments if they felt it advanced their own interests.

#3 Comment By La Lubu On March 17, 2014 @ 7:24 am

La Lubu argues that individualism is the result of a collapse of community institutions. How do we know it wasn’t a cause instead?

You know, that’s a really good point. My truncated experience may have led me to believe otherwise simply out of ignorance of the mass demonstrations of working class people in the 1970s clamoring for factories to close and be sent overseas. Demanding a drop in wages and the abolishing of benefits. Agreeing that pensions should be decimated, especially for the already-retired; that it is far more important for the captains of industry to have that money to keep the wheels of capitalism turning than for grandma and grandpa to keep the lights on. It’s altogether possible that I missed a large, popular, grass-roots movement agitating for mass disinvestment in things like schools, libraries, parks, y’know…”the commons”. It’s possible that downstate Illinois was the only place in the nation where people were upset about this abandonment of our communities.

But I don’t think so.

Devinicus, I used the word reverence pointedly. For people on the opposite end of the club of authority (and frankly, that’s what it always is when you get down to it), it’s always crystal-clear that “authority” is nothing more than the naked exercise of power. That there is no wisdom behind it.

Deindustrialization and the mass disinvestment in communities was part of the formative experience for a good part of Generation X. It sent a pretty powerful message, and not one of “you can be the CEO of Me, Inc.! Isn’t that liberating?!”

Take a look at what KSS said above: We can only do so much, and it’s more practical to take care of our own first. That was in reference to closing ranks around social class; “our own” deliberately excluding working class people like me, my daughter, my extended family, my neighbors, and most of my community. We can go rot.

And then afterwards, we can be conveniently blamed for the fallout. All that selfish individualism, that “looking out for Number One”. Not doing enough to rise from the ruins; not putting enough elbow grease in. Pfft!

#4 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 17, 2014 @ 10:09 am

Re: But even if it was worth considering, it is beside my point, which is that religious institutions, far from mediating against the rise of cruel fascist regimes, were instead often enthusiastic supporters of them

I don’t at all disagree with you there. Croatia and Slovakia are probably the best examples of an explicitly Catholic fascism, and they were horrible. My point was a minor one about Franco’s responsibility (or lack of responsibility, really) in the Holocaust. He had plenty of other evils to his credit, killing 300,000 leftists is bad enough.

#5 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 17, 2014 @ 10:12 am

Rod,

I too will not be able to come see you. I was in East Lansing for the weekend, but decided I couldn’t stay an extra day.

Let me know if you’re in the Central Illinois area anytime soon.

[NFR: Ah, my loss. Well, please come visit us on the river sometime. — RD]

#6 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 17, 2014 @ 10:19 am

Re: Was Dylan’s Christianity a passing phase? Anybody know where he is spiritually these days?

I don’t know, but ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ is a great song.

#7 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 17, 2014 @ 10:26 am

Re: It’s a classic social conservative point: the idea that mediating institutions — family, church, and other associations — are what guarantee our liberties, and protect us from totalitarian control.

I think Jay is pretty much correct to argue with this point. (I’m terminally allergic to liberalism, so I have a knee-jerk reaction to people lumping all forms of ‘fascism’ or ‘communism’ together, which is why I reacted with some annoyance). The church and family *sometimes* are beneficent institutions protecting us from the government, but very often the opposite is true.

Your chance of being severely mistreated and abused by family members is much greater than your chance of being mistreated/abused by the state. Especially if you’re a woman, and especially in Asia and Africa, though not only there. One only needs to look at statistics on sexual abuse and domestic violence to realize that.

The family is a good institution, just as the state is, and St. Paul in his Epistles is clear that both of them (as well as the Christian churches) are instituted by God. None of them are incorruptible though, certainly not the church, and as a man of the Left I don’t see the church and the family as any less vulnerable to corruption and evil than the state.

#8 Comment By Franklin Evans On March 17, 2014 @ 10:32 am

Individualism is the result of the failure of local, regional and national communitarianism. Seems like a simple cause-and-effect track to me. One can trace this in commercial advertising by examining whom the marketers are targeting.

I don’t want to be left out, so I’m throwing out my own pet -ism: balancism.

Our local universe has an overall balance. That balance, however, may not be apparent in a microcosm like a single continent or nation. Thus, one can speculate that finding a Hitler or Stalin (today, we might say a Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic) in one microcosm should prompt us to find a M. Ghandi or M.L. King, Jr. somewhere else. Balance is not guaranteed in a microcosm or over a (relatively) short time span like one decade or one lifetime.

Merde se passe I assert. Context and scope determine whether it provides fertilizer or causes us to flee the stench. The delusion is that we can control it. We find ourselves at the mercy of tyrants ( [4] is brilliant) because we want fertilizer but we want someone else to deal with the stench, and we often pay for it with someone who ends up burying our heads in it.

One of the few valid lessons (IMO) from the Roman Imperial era is the notion of bread and circuses. Beware the leaders who actually give it to us when we demand it. They are either weak and incompetent or preparing to enslave us (again). The only real goal is to stay in power.

#9 Comment By KSS On March 17, 2014 @ 10:40 am

La Lubu, you misread me. “Taking care of our own” was a reference to the immediate community–which, in my case (and it the case of many) is fairly diverse socioeconomically. It was meant to show my jadedness with complaints about national political sphere. That exhausts me, and often doesn’t get anyone very far. I’ve found I can make a much bigger difference within a smallish local community. If that means ambivalence for the fate of the rest of America, I can live with that. I can only control so much. (And, as the next sentence showed, I’m well aware there could be serious consequences to that decision. But, after having gone to Washington as a fairly idealistic person and left very jaded about national politics, I think this is the way to go.)

My point, perhaps poorly expressed in the initial post, is this: class-based analysis may be useful in diagnosing some of what is wrong with contemporary America, but it may not be the best place to start when looking for solutions, especially when one considers the national political reality.

I’m from a Midwestern city that is still trying to recover from the decline of manufacturing. If I could put everything back in the bottle and make the steel mill re-open and turn the declining neighborhoods around and open up a bunch of factories with good wages, I would. I can’t, and I don’t think anyone else can. As I said in my second post, the solutions won’t look like anything we’ve seen before. Which is a problem, but doesn’t leave me feeling hopeless, either. Through it all, this community still has some strengths; they just need to be harnessed.

#10 Comment By grumpy realist On March 17, 2014 @ 11:13 am

What Ross and other lovers of conservatism fail to realize is that for a lot of us, Ye Olde Goode Tymes weren’t very good. I’m an educated female. If we were back in the 1950s, I would have found it very difficult to a) get the education I am now using and b) find a career which would allow me to use my skills to the widest extent possible.

I’m suspicious of religion because in too many cases religious authority has been used to pigeon-hole people in truncated boxes for all of their lives. It’s very convenient for the Christian or other church to say that it’s God’s Will that women are to stay home, take care of the children and the menfolk, and spend what little free time they have doing all sorts of unpaid volunteer activity. Very convenient indeed….

#11 Comment By Anand On March 17, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

La Lubu,

While I’m generally onboard with you, I wonder if there isn’t *some* truth in the idea that “individualism” may have helped cause the collapse of community institutions. The point being that to the extent that elite institutions have embraced racial and cultural diversity, they may actually undermine class solidarity. Because community institutions require leadership when elite institutions now siphon off and co-pt some of that leadership (i.e. the guy who would have been a leader within his community goes to Harvard and gets recruited by McKinsey instead). Which is great for the individuals, but maybe less good for those at the bottom of their communities.

I certainly don’t want to go back to the days of legalized segregation and Jewish quotas at Ivy League schools. And as someone who’s conservative by nature, I don’t believe that radical solutions will solve anything in the long run either. But I think it remains an open question whether the “meritocracy” which has been so good for me personally is capable of bringing anyone else along.

-AG

#12 Comment By HeartRight On March 17, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

‘I find this sort of defense of fascism-love intellectually bankrupt. “Commies are bad, so we have to love Franco.”’

Considering what we have seen happening in Greece in recent years, there is nothing bankupt about it.

Fsscism is a popular reaction – as we can see in the rise of support for Golden Dawn – to left wing street violence.

I’ll go stand with Helmut Schmidt and you can go stand with Rudi Dutschke. I’d rather be called a fascist than a marxist!

Completely, utterly and totally eradicate the red street thugs and the problem is solved.

[NFR: If I were a Spaniard during the civil war, I would have had to hope for Franco’s victory, because the opposite would have meant death for people like me, or severe repression. That does not mean Franco was a good man; it only meant that he was less of an SOB than the SOBs he fought. — RD]

#13 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 17, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

Re: If I were a Spaniard during the civil war, I would have had to hope for Franco’s victory, because the opposite would have meant death for people like me, or severe repression.

Well, you realize that someone on the left would have said the exact opposite, right?

nfr: yes. – rd

#14 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 17, 2014 @ 2:28 pm

Re: Because community institutions require leadership when elite institutions now siphon off and co-pt some of that leadership (i.e. the guy who would have been a leader within his community goes to Harvard and gets recruited by McKinsey instead).

The Marxist intellectual Paul Sweezy said exactly that, in 1966, as part of his argument that liberalism was a means to co-opt the most talented members of the working class and forestall revolution.

#15 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 17, 2014 @ 2:34 pm

La Lubu,

Working class people are more submissive to authority, more authoritarian, and less culturally liberal than elites. This has been documented in sociology/anthropological studies since the early 1960s, and is also borne out by history. As someone who’s relatively authoritarian by nature, I see that as a *good* thing, not a *bad* thing. I don’t want a world full of narcissistic freewheeling clowns from Manhattan elite families.

You’re quite likely correct that the people you know don’t trust the existing authorities in their lifes, but *not trusting the established authorities* is a very different thing than *not believing in authority, in principle*. The most obvious example is people like Communists and other revolutionaries. The Communist loathes the existing authorities and the established order of things: he wants to get rid of them and establish a new and different authority based on different sources of legitimacy, which would probably be at least as authoritarian as the system he overthrew.

Again, this is not a criticism: I think authority, loyalty and obedience are natural to the human condition, and I feel much more comfortable with someone who wants to switch the authority that we defer to, than with an anarchist or libertarian who wants to get rid of authority in general.

#16 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 17, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

Re: Completely, utterly and totally eradicate the red street thugs and the problem is solved.

Completely wipe out the brown thugs and their sympathizers, and the problem would be solved too.

#17 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 17, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

Re: For people on the opposite end of the club of authority (and frankly, that’s what it always is when you get down to it), it’s always crystal-clear that “authority” is nothing more than the naked exercise of power.

Yeah, no. This is not typically true. Most people ‘on the opposite end of the club of authority’ are not left-wing liberals, they’re left-wing authoritarians.

Liberalism is a extreme anomaly, historically speaking, and the driving force for liberalism is usually the comfortable middle class, not oppressed people.

#18 Comment By Erik Johnson On March 17, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

Gosh people, TS Eliot was a poet. Read him like a poet is read.

#19 Comment By Laurie On March 17, 2014 @ 7:54 pm

Searched all over Cornerstone’s website last week for info on the details of your talk–sadly, I found nothing 🙁

#20 Comment By HeartRight On March 18, 2014 @ 12:47 am

Hector:
‘Completely wipe out the brown thugs and their sympathizers, and the problem would be solved too.’

And this would restore the Spanish Monarcby how, exactly?

#21 Comment By Jay On March 18, 2014 @ 2:42 am

[NFR: If I were a Spaniard during the civil war, I would have had to hope for Franco’s victory, because the opposite would have meant death for people like me, or severe repression. That does not mean Franco was a good man; it only meant that he was less of an SOB than the SOBs he fought. — RD]

A fairly compelling argument can be made that the Nationalists were not only the instigators of the violence in the civil war but also by far the greater perpetrators. See, for instance, Preston’s [5], which makes this case while not at all glossing over the violence on the Republican side.

But this is beside the point. In that conflict and the forty years of totalitarian dictatorships that followed and the attempted military coups after the restoration of democracy, the Catholic church was not a “mediating institution” against totalitarian repression. It was a willing participant. When push comes to shove these religious institutions don’t protect us against these things, but rather act according to their own self-interest.

#22 Comment By HeartRight On March 18, 2014 @ 11:55 am

‘A fairly compelling argument can be made that the Nationalists were not only the instigators of the violence in the civil war but also by far the greater perpetrators. See, for instance, Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust, which makes this case while not at all glossing over the violence on the Republican side.’

Considering that the republicans began the whole trouble by aboliahing the Monarchy –
that is quite a tale.

And if you are under the impression that Franco was totalitarian, try Hitler for size. I think you are confusing Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism.
They are as distinct from eachother as Tito and Stalin.

#23 Comment By Aegis On March 18, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

@ HeartRight: are you saying that the 1936 coup wasn’t a coup, that Franco et al. weren’t responsible for the greater part of the atrocities in the ensuing civil war, or that said coup and atrocities were justified because the pinkos dared abolish the monarchy?

#24 Comment By HeartRight On March 18, 2014 @ 5:15 pm

@Aegis:

He who abolishes a Monarchy does not merit continued existence – period. Those are simply outlaws.
And those who aid or succour an outlaw become likewise outlaws.

#25 Comment By Aegis On March 18, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

@ Heartright.

I see. Well, you go have fun with that.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 18, 2014 @ 11:39 pm

When the framers of the Bill of Rights adopted the Second Amendment, they had their eye on views such as are expressed here by Heartright. Indeed, a free people must be armed to defend themselves against those who aver that “He who abolishes a Monarchy does not merit continued existence.”

If I were a Spaniard during the civil war, I would have had to hope for Franco’s victory, because the opposite would have meant death for people like me, or severe repression.

Again, Rod has a certain reflexive anti-communism that does not serve him well. The truth is not exactly what communist propaganda of the period depicted either, the truth is actually quite complex. Open violence against conservatives and fascists (two different schools of thought, though in that time and place easily confused) broke out AFTER Franco’s coup, so it could in part be blamed on Franco himself.

The most rabid destruction of churches and persecution of priests and nuns was carried out by anarchist factions (the same ones George Orwell defended from liquidation by communist commissars). In many villages, the local population, firmly Republican, decided of course we’re not going to burn down our church, then an armed Anarchist faction, in the style of ISIS marching into a Syrian village, showed up to enforce that the church be burned forthwith.

Its hard for Americans to envision what politics was like in a country where anarchism was a movement with real roots and adherents and, paradoxically, disciplined military formations. Bakunin was no hippie, and neither were his acolytes.

And of course, there is Dolores Ibarruri’s account of scouring Madrid to find a crucifix to comfort a mother superior she was protecting… Further, I doubt Rod means that he would approve of the murder of Federico Garcia Lorca, who wasn’t in arms at all, just staying home and telling his family, oh, I’m sure the fascists aren’t actually going to kill me.

#27 Comment By Falconer On March 19, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

@HeartRight,

[6]

Spain’s Princess Cristina has been questioned in court in connection with a corruption scandal involving her husband’s business dealings.

It was the first time in history that a member of Spain’s royal family has appeared in court as the subject of a criminal investigation.

Her husband Inaki Urdangarin is alleged to have defrauded regional governments of millions of euros of public money.

The princess and her husband deny any wrongdoing, and have not been charged.

King Juan Carlos’s youngest daughter then faced a judge to answer questions relating to alleged fraud and money-laundering.

[7]
There’s your Royalty, it barely took them one generation in power before they tried to steal everything that wasn’t nailed down…

You can keep them.

Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

Denis Diderot

[NFR: Anyone who can cite Diderot’s line affirmatively is a throat-cutting tyrant at heart, and should be watched like a hawk, lest he get anywhere near power. — RD]

#28 Comment By Aegis On March 19, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

[NFR: Anyone who can cite Diderot’s line affirmatively is a throat-cutting tyrant at heart, and should be watched like a hawk, lest he get anywhere near power. — RD]

As opposed to the dude he was responding to, who was implicitly condoning the torture, massacre, and mass rape of people who dare throw off their “rightful” rulers?

A liberal republican using similarly strident language is what finally gets your dander up?

#29 Comment By Franklin Evans On March 21, 2014 @ 10:12 am

…and supporting Rod’s ire above:

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

Isaac Asimov