Sorokin & The West’s Future
As readers may recall, I am about to start working on a new book (once I get a contract), one that will complete a trilogy that I didn’t set out to write as a trilogy. I don’t have a title for this book yet, but I intend it to be a look forward to the renewed world that I believe will come into being after the collapse of the current order — a collapse, by the way, that could take a long time, and will be extremely distressing. If The Benedict Option is about how to build kinds of lay monasteries to keep the Christian faith alive through this long winter’s night; and if Live Not By Lies is a more acute version of same, narrowly focused on how to resist and thrive under direct persecution; then this new book is going to be about how to prepare oneself spiritually and holistically for the rebirth of civilization.
That sounds very grandiose, and abstract — but it’s not. The book is going to play around with big ideas, but my goal is to inspire readers to re-awaken themselves to the practice of the presence of God in our world, and to teach them how to re-learn to see the world we live in through spiritual, sacramental eyes, as our forefathers in the first millennium of Christianity did.
The book proposal is at my publisher’s now, so I didn’t get to include in it an idea that I used to think about a lot, but had not in some time: the work of the Russian-born sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, an anti-Bolshevik exile who was the founder of the sociology department at Harvard. The other day I was looking on my bookshelves for something and ran across a copy of his 1941 book The Crisis of Our Age, in which he laid out for a general readership his sociological theory of cultural change. This morning, I looked back on the Wayback Machine and found a 2008 Beliefnet post I did about it, after I first read the book. Here’s what I had to say back then. I’m not going to reformat this, but simply indicate when it begins, and when it ends.
[BEGIN 2008 SOROKIN POST]
I have been meaning for some time to read from the work of Pitirim Sorokin (d. 1968), the great Russian emigre intellectual who was the first head of Harvard’s sociology department, and eventually became the leading sociologist in the country. He was professionally very close to his Harvard departmental colleague Carle C. Zimmerman, whose recently reissued work “Family and Civilization” I’ve blogged about recently. I ran across Sorokin’s name last week, and decided to order his 1941 book “The Crisis of Our Age” from the wondrous used-books seller Alibris.com. I’ve just finished the book. My preliminary judgment is that it’s breathtaking, but I’m going to have to read it again and think through Sorokin’s conclusions before I reach a more definitive conclusion. Nevertheless, as you’ll see in this lengthy post, Sorokin’s ideas are absolutely key to the idea that traditionalist conservatives, religious and otherwise, would be wise to take the “Benedict Option”: to consciously withdraw to some extent from a dying cultural order and, in seeking out a way to live faith and virtue out in community, lay the groundwork for what may succeed the current order.
(Note well: if any of this Sorokin business appeals to you, I encourage you to order today “The Crisis of Our Age,” which is very readable; Alibris only has a very limited supply, and Amazon.com is selling them for $61 each — three times what I paid via Alibris!)
Now, on to the book.
“The Crisis of Our Age” proclaimed Sorokin’s view that the West was in a terminal crisis, but that its resolution, however shocking and traumatic, would not mean the End, as is often thought, but only the transition to a new and very different phase of that civilization. “Crisis” is a summation of Sorokin’s cyclical theory of social development. He believed that civilizations cycle through three basic states, based on the dominant view of the nature of truth within that civilization:
1. The ideational, in which a culture is built around God, or some other transcendental source of truth. Material concerns are secondary to spiritual ones.
2. The idealistic, which synthesizes spiritual and material values through reason.
3. The sensate, in which a culture is built around material concerns, and de-emphasizes the spiritual as the foundation upon which the culture is built.
Sorokin held that both the ideational and sensate were only partial truths, and that true human flourishing would be out of balance if civilization focused too heavily on one over the other. Yet both provide for authentic human needs; as such, neither ideational nor sensate cultures can go on forever, without suffering a correction — possibly traumatic — marking the transition from one state to another. The idealistic model is, well, ideal, but it is also the most unstable, and rarest.
The story of the West since the fall of Rome illustrates his theory. The sensate culture of ancient Rome decayed so much that Roman civilization could neither perpetuate nor protect itself. So the Western empire fell. Out of the chaos emerged the ideational culture of Christianity, propagated chiefly by monks. Christian faith and Christian moral teaching spoke to the needs of post-Roman Europe, which oriented itself around ascetic Christian ideals, and began rebuilding civilization.
As order developed and wealth began to spread, the ideational culture of the early Middle Ages, gave way to the idealistic culture of the High Middle Ages, perfected intellectually in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics. But then, in the 14th century, the Scholastics lost the great medieval debate to the Nominalists, who taught that the only truths we can know for sure are those revealed to us through our senses. That was the critical moment, the first cause of the transition between idealistic and sensate culture. Richard Weaver, in “Ideas Have Consequences,” writes:
It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.It is easy to be blind to the significance of a change because it is remote in time and abstract in character. Those who have not discovered that worldview is the most important thing about a man, as about the men composing a culture, should consider the train of circumstances which have with perfect logic proceeded from this. The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably — though ways are found to hedge on this — the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of “man the measure of all things. ” The witches [on the heath in “Macbeth” — RD] spoke with the habitual equivocation of oracles when they told man that by this easy choice he might realize himself more fully, for they were actually initiating a course which cuts one off from reality. Thus began the “abomination of desolation” appearing today as a feeling of alienation from all fixed truth.
Sorokin’s analysis agrees with this. But as Sorokin makes clear, this was by no means an unambiguously bad thing. Sensate culture brought about the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, astonishing scientific discoveries and technological developments, democracy, capitalism — in short, the modern world. The entire history of the West since the 14th century has been about the progressive liberation of the individual from all constraint. No one can deny that this has brought about enormous benefits. Certainly Sorokin doesn’t deny this.
But there’s a hitch, and it’s a fatal one. Here’s Sorokin:
A further consequence of such a system of truth [sensate] is the development of a temporalistic, relativistic, and nihilistic mentality. The sensory world is in a state of incessant flux and becoming. There is nothing unchangeable in it — not even an eternal Supreme Being. Mind dominated by the truth of the senses simply cannot perceive any permanency, but apprehends all values in terms of shift and transformation Sensate mentality views everything from the standpoint of evolution and progress. This leads to an increasing neglect of the eternal values, which come to be replaced by temporary, or short-time, considerations. Sensate society lives in, and appreciates mainly, the present. Since the past is irretrievable and no longer exists, while the future is not yet here and is uncertain, only the present moment is real and desirable.
We have seen that modern sensate culture emerged with a major belief that true reality and true value were mainly and exclusively sensory. Anything that was supersensory was either doubtful as a reality or fictitious as a value. It either did not exists or, being unperceivable by the senses, amounted to the nonexistent. Respectively, the organs of senses, with the secondary help of human reason, were made the main arbiter of the true and false, of the real and unreal, and of the valuable and valueless. Any charismatic-supersensory and superrational revelation, any mystic experience, ay truth of faith, began to be denied, as a valid experience, a valid truth, and a genuine value. The major premise of the sensory nature of the true reality and value is the root from which developed the tree of our sensate culture with its splendid as well as its poisonous fruit. Its first positive fruit is an unprecedented development of the natural sciences and technological inventions. The first poisonous fruit is a fatal narrowing of the realm of true [absolute] reality and true value.
One thinks of Philip Rieff’s insight that our world today has become therapeutic, in the sense that we have relinquished the solidity and psychological comfort of God and all the concept of God entails, and devote our time to therapeutic means of coping with the pain of nihilism. Here’s a bit from my first post on the reissued version of Rieff’s “The Triumph of the Therapeutic”:
In the introductory chapter of “Triumph,” Rieff says that the overturning of Christian civilization has given rise to a civilization in which people wish to retain inherited morality without “the hard external crust of institutional discipline.” But this isn’t possible, according to Rieff, because any culture survives by the strength of its institutions, and their ability to “bind and loose men in the conduct of their affairs” in ways that are “commonly and implicitly understood.” When a culture stops to think about why we do things this way and not that way, and there are no institutions powerful enough to say, in effect, “Because that’s the way we do it” — then you have a culture in decline.
The impact collapse of Christianity as a binding civilizational force in the West cannot be overestimated. We now live in a world where any appeal to idealism is immediately suspect. Writes Rieff: “The question is no longer as Dostoevski put it: ‘Can civilized men believe?’ Rather: Can unbelieving men be civilized?” That is, can people who do not believe in the existence of objective truth, and the possibility that it can be authoritatively expressed, ever form a durable civilization?
Sorokin says it cannot happen. The tragedy (in the classical sense) of the West is that the same idea, or ideas, that made the West’s rise possible by releasing the creative energies of the individual contained within them the seeds of the West’s decline through dissipation, disunity and fragmentation. This insight is echoed in Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue.”
Sorokin says that “sensate thinkers” of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries understood the risk to social stability and cohesion from the abandonment of God and binding transcendental values, and tried to shore up the system by preaching a rational God in whom it was necessary to believe for the sake of social order. Sorokin:
Unfortunately, they appear to have forgotten that if religion and ideational norms were a mere artificial mythology invented as a useful adjunct to the policeman and the gallows, such an illusion could not last long without being exposed. With this fraud exposed, sensate values themselves could not help losing their “saltiness,” and hence their prestige and controlling power.
There is a clear line of causation between William of Ockham and Friedrich Nietzsche, who saw far more clearly than most.
I don’t have the time to go into much more detail about Sorokin’s historical analysis here, but I found it fascinating how he showed from the historical record how wars, and the destructiveness of wars, spiked as cultures were transitioning from one system to another. Sorokin appears to believe that the wars were not so much catalysts for the destruction of the old and the coming of the new as they were symptoms of mass social restlessness, the externalization of internal disorder. Writing as he did in 1941, his prose is at times overheated, but he predicted that the 20th century would be by far the bloodiest in human history. This is before World War II played itself out, and before we knew anything of the Holocaust. The exposure of the full range of communism’s mass murder lay in the future.
What of the future? Sorokin believed that we were living through the “twilight” of sensate culture, and that a transition either into a idealistic or ideational successor was inevitable — though he did not predict how that was likely to come about (it seems that writing in 1941, he believed that a succession of cataclysmic wars were going to do it in; to the extent he believed that, he was wrong, obviously). Yet Sorokin did not believe that the Western population would disappear (though one wonders what he would have made of the West’s depopulation today), nor did he believe that all our material wealth and knowledge would disappear (as it did when Rome fell). Instead, Sorokin said that of necessity people would, to use Nietzsche’s phrase, undergo a “transvaluation of all values” (though Nietzsche, of course, sought the final overthrow of Christian values in favor of sensate ones). We are seeing and will continue to see a split in society:
Extreme hedonists and cynicists, on the one hand, and extreme ascetics and mystics on the other, whose kingdom is not of this world, will increasingly appear. The chasm between these will grow and society in its soul and members will be split more and more into these two extreme types, until the transition is over and the extreme hedonism of the Carpe diem dies out.On a small or large scale such a split has uniformly occurred in small and great transitions; and especially in the period of the great transitions from one culture to another. Bocaccio’s Decameron with its hedonistic company, and the medieval flagellants, mystics, and ascetics are the concrete examples of such a split in the transitions of the fourteenth century. Vulgar Roman Epicureans and Petroniuses on the one hand, and Stoics, ascetics, and Christians on the other, are another example of such a split in the transition of the first centuries of our era. A similar split is already appearing and will undoubtedly grow in the future in Western society.
He doesn’t elaborate on that point here, and I have to say I don’t see many signs of it from the 1940s on. But I see the logic here, and I think that increased prosperity has masked and ameliorated many of the crises predicted by Sorokin. A permanent energy crisis, in which cheap oil ends but no replacement is found, would radically change our entire way of life, and expose our atomization and the values that led to it for the debilitating things they are.
Sorokin, (inadvertently) on the Whig Theory of History:
[T]he tragic character of the decline and of the transitional period, before the new phase is reached, does not permit our theory to share in any way the shallow optimism of the salesmen of “progress,” of the philistine “boosters” of the commercialized “bigger and better.” If the Cassandras crying “the death of civlization” are mistaken, they at least do not turn the great tragedy of this historical process into a musical comedy. As for the “salesmen of progress,” be they “science managers,” scholars, presidents of this or that, journalists, or chamber of commerce speakers, they are not only mistaken but they do not have even the virtue of the misguided Cassandras. They are so deaf that they can never distinguish a tragic “dies irae, dies illa” from something “fine and dandy.” Whatever happens in the course of time they welcome as a later and therefore bigger and better manifestation of progress.
What to do? The first thing, says Sorokin, is for people to understand the nature of the crisis:
It is high time to realize that this is not one of the ordinary crises which happen almost every decade, but one of the greatest transitions in human history from one of its main forms of culture to another. An adequate realization of the immense magnitude of the change now upon us is a necessary condition for determining the adequacy of measures and means to alleviate the magnitude of the pending catastrophe.
Second, we have to recognize that sensate culture is “not the only great form of culture.” Ideational and idealistic cultures are “in their own way as great.”
Third, we must accept that in the course of time, each of these cultures exhausts itself creatively, necessitating a shift to another basic form if the people of that culture want to continue their “creative life.”
Fourth, if we’re convinced that the shift is necessary and inevitable, we should prepare for it through deeply understanding the main premises and values of sensate culture, and rejecting them because they are only a partial accounting of reality. (Sorokin believed the idealistic/integralist form was the highest, and most truthful, form). Though Sorokin doesn’t say this outright, he cannot possibly mean anything other than a return to traditional religion, whether a revived Christianity of something else.
We will know that the transition is well underway, Sorokin says, when the most creative minds turn from engagement with the fields of endeavor that serve sensate ends, and are instead attracted to ideational/idealistic pursuits. We will know the transition is well underway when we see among us new St. Pauls, new St. Augustines — and new St. Benedicts.
Fifth, there must be a “transformation of social relationships and forms of social organization” to correspond with ideational ideals — which is to say, reality. This means that it is possible, for example, that the nation-state will disappear, as irreconcilable with absolute values that society needs. Being faithful to God may — may — require the withering away of certain forms of social organization.
Sixth, there must be an organic (that is, non-coerced, freely chosen) restoration of the traditional nuclear family, and the construction of social forms that favor its flourishing (versus the flourishing of the autonomous individual, or the state, or some other collective).
Sorokin did not believe that this transition could take place without real trauma. Man cannot seem to learn from history. He behaves
as if there were no causal relationships and consequences; as if there were no such thing as socio-cultural sickness, and hence no need to sacrifice momentary pleasures and other sensate utilities and values in order to avoid an infinitely greater catastrophe. In this field of experience he remains virtually unteachable.
Here are the final lines of the book:
The more unteachable we are, and the less freely and willingly we choose the sole course of salvation open to us, the more inexorable will be the coercion, the more pitiless the ordeal, the more terrible the dies irae of the transition. Let us hope that the grace of understanding may be vouchsafed us and that we may choose, before it is too late, the right road — the road that leads not to death but to the further realization of man’s unique creative mission on this planet! Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini!
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Or, you might read it as, “Benedict, who comes in the name of the Lord!” Compare this to MacIntyre’s final lines in “After Virtue”:
A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead . . . was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. . . . This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless quite different — St. Benedict.
I’m not presenting Sorokin’s analysis here as fact. Obviously I’m highly sympathetic to it, but it raises some difficult questions, as does any philosophy that requires historical determinism. As I often do, I share it here with you to help me think through it. And I’ll ask here the same questions I posed recently in a post about Wendell Berry:
At what point to you conclude that the way we’re living now is not going to be sustainable in the future that’s rapidly coming upon us, and that it’s time to make prudent, though perhaps somewhat radical, changes, given the consequences of failing to prepare for the economic end of the Modern era?
At what point do you — do any of us — accept that we can’t keep living like we do, because the old order will not survive the shocks to come? And to really accept that, as opposed to endlessly contemplating it on blogs and in bar conversation, is to act on it. All of which is a roundabout way of asking the question: at what point do you yourself become a new, and doubtless very different, Benedictine?
[END 2008 SOROKIN POST]
This post appeared nine years before The Benedict Option did. I chuckled at the very 2008 concern in it about Peak Oil, but otherwise it holds up well.
Re-reading about Sorokin, I realized that his thought is the link between this forthcoming book project and both of its immediate predecessors. I am primarily interested in re-spiritualizing the West because I believe that God is real, that Christianity is true, and that we will not be able to reclaim its transformative power until and unless we re-learn to experience the world sacramentally, as medievals did. What Sorokin does is to place that aspiration into a dynamic historical context, and make it out to be the prep work for renewing the world through re-spiritualization. Sorokin believed it was inevitable, because mankind cannot live in the sensate world permanently.
You will have noticed that Sorokin talks about “integralism,” which of late has been a controversial topic in these parts. He believed that some kind of social order that better integrates religious values to laws and policies is optimal for human flourishing. I suspect he’s right about that, but notice too that he speaks of the need to restore the family organically (that is, through a non-coerced way). I’m going to go back and re-read The Crisis Of Our Age to be sure, but I am confident that he would say that an integralist society has to be the result of spiritual and cultural conditions within the society, not something imposed from the outside by an authoritarian minority which doesn’t share the religious convictions of the majority. In other words, if you want integralism in the future, start evangelizing and discipling people now.
I’m so happy I rediscovered Sorokin, who seems to have been lying dormant on my bookshelf waiting for this moment in my career as a writer. I recall too that around the same time I read Nikolai Berdyaev, one of Sorokin’s contemporaries, though what I learned from him I have forgotten. Time to rediscover it. What excites me about the Sorokin connection is that his thought gives me a way to ground the spiritual transformation I seek — the re-Christianization of the West — to a hopeful theory of cultural change. Mind you, there is no reason to be fully confident that the West’s long-term future will be Christian. But if you read Sorokin, then there is reason to believe that it will be much more spiritually focused than it has been for centuries.
By the way, in doing research this morning, I came across this 2012 blog post from the left-wing cultural critic Morris Berman, who enthusiastically cites Sorokin’s take on the decline of our civilization. Here’s part of what Berman saw in him:
Sorokin’s predictions for this end-game scenario (remember, he’s writing this nearly seventy-five years ago) were as follows:
- The boundary between true and false, and beautiful and ugly, will erode. Conscience will disappear in favor of special interest groups. Force and fraud will become the norm; might will become right, and brutality rampant. It will be a bellum omnium contra omnes, and the family will disintegrate as well. “The home will become a mere overnight parking place.”
- Sensate values “will be progressively destructive rather than constructive, representing in their totality a museum of sociocultural pathology….The Sensate mentality will increasingly interpret man and all values ‘physicochemically,’ ‘biologically,’ ‘reflexologically,’ ‘endocrinologically,’ ‘behavioristically,’ ‘economically’…[etc.].”
- Real creativity will die out. Instead, we shall get a multitude of mediocre pseudo-thinkers and vulgar groups and organizations. Our belief systems will turn into a strange chaotic stew of science, philosophy, and magical beliefs.“Quantitative colossalism will substitute for qualitative refinement.” What is biggest will be regarded as best. Instead of classics, we shall have best-sellers. Instead of genius, technique. Instead of real thought, Information. Instead of inner value, glittering externality. Instead of sages, smart alecs. The great cultural values of the past will be degraded; “Michelangelos and Rembrandts will be decorating soap and razor blades, washing machines and whiskey bottles.”
- Freedom will become a myth. “Inalienable rights will be alienated; Declarations of Rights either abolished or used only as beautiful screens for an unadulterated coercion. Governments will become more and more hoary, fraudulent, and tyrannical, giving bombs instead of bread; death instead of freedom; violence instead of law.” Security will fade; the population will become weary and scared.“Suicide, mental disease, and crime will grow.”
The dies irae of transition will not be fun to live through, but the only way out of this mess, he wrote, is precisely through it. Under the conditions outlined above, the “population will not be able to help opening its eyes [this will be a very delayed phase in the U.S., I’m guessing] to the hollowness of the declining Sensate culture…. As a result, it will increasingly forsake it and shift its allegiance to either Ideational or Idealistic values.” Finally, we shall see the release of new creative forces, which “will usher in a culture and a noble society built not upon the withered Sensate root but upon a healthier and more vigorous root of integralistic principle.” In other words, we can expect “the emergence and slow growth of the first components of a new sociocultural order.”
And I returned just now to this literary essay by my friend Evgeny Vodolazkin, author of the great novel Laurus and an academic expert on the medieval period. He believes we are on the cusp of a new Middle Ages. Excerpt:
To examine the similarity between contemporary life and the Middle Ages, I turned to literary material, since that’s what’s closest to me. Yet literature is only a partial manifestation of a nation’s or culture’s spiritual state. Nikolai Berdyaev divides epochs into days and nights. Days include antiquity and the modern age. They’re colorful and magnificent, and they go down in history as moments of explosive display. The night epochs—such as the Middle Ages—are outwardly muted but profounder than those of the day. It is during the sleep of night that what has been perceived during the day can be assimilated. A night epoch allows for insight into the essence of things and for concentrating strength. We are now entering such a time.
As far as naming the coming epoch, it might be called, with a dose of humor, the Epoch of Renaissance, since it is reviving some qualities of the Middle Ages. Alas, it seems that the name is taken. In my view, the coming epoch’s intent attention to metaphysics, its intent attention not just to the surface reality but to what might lie beyond it, gives cause for calling it the Epoch of Concentration.
Each epoch resolves certain problems. What issues stand before the Epoch of Concentration? I’ll name two, though they’re actually one twofold issue: excessive individualization and the secularization of life. In the modern age, the individual required recognition. Faith required lack of faith so that the believer would have a choice and so that faith wouldn’t be a mere everyday habit. This train gathered speed but didn’t stop. It kept moving even after reaching its station. It now seems to have gone pretty far beyond its destination. The cult of the individual now places us outside divine and human community. The harmony in which a person once found himself with God during the Middle Ages has been destroyed, and God no longer stands at the center of the human consciousness.
The humanism of the modern age takes that the human being is the measure of all things. The same could be said of the Middle Ages, with one correction: The person is the measure of all things, if it is understood that the measure was given by God. Humanism becomes inhuman without that correction. As the rights set down for the individual multiply, a turn is inevitably coming for a right to cross the street against a red light. Because our concept of rights is anti-humane at its core, it activates the mechanism for self-destruction. The right to suicide turns out to be our most exemplary liberty.
If the West is able to move beyond its geopolitical disagreements with Russia and take a good look at the conservative project that’s taking shape in Russia now, it will see one possible future for our common European civilization. Today as ever—contrary to progressive conceits—it is possible for a society to recognize a place for religion and uphold traditional notions of marriage and family. Yet Russia’s attempt to do this will fail if a harsh dictatorship of the majority arises. This would destabilize society no less than, say, the dictatorship of the minority that we can observe at times in the West. If it becomes clear that this is a dynamic, self-regulating system capable of reacting to shifts as they arise, the project can be considered successful.
I completely missed at the time this follow-up essay by Vodolazkin, explaining his idea about the “Epoch of Concentration”. Excerpt:
Of course, pronouncements about the future must be tentative. But they are permissible when the future is to some degree already evident in the present. That is our situation. The modern age is giving way to the age of concentration. And so I believe that I am within my rights to formulate a number of suppositions:
• The history of European civilizations is at present living through one of its epochal shifts. Using the terminology of Nicholas Berdyaev, one can say that a “nocturnal” period is in store, a time of concentration during which we internalize the experiences received during the “daytime” of the modern age.
• The most recent “nocturnal” period was the Middle Ages. The coming age will probably bring to the fore a medieval emphasis on metaphysics. One should keep in mind that a change of epochs often does not proceed in a single step, but does so in jolts or pulses, with tide-like ebbs and flows.
• The main level of concentration will be personal, since the subject of moral and metaphysical experience is the human person himself. The national leader will also come into concert with the metaphysical demands of the epoch.
• This age of concentration will also have a social dimension and expression. It will consist of the restoration of nation-states as the form for the existence of peoples. In comparison to the global frame of reference that was emphasized in the last half century, the national level will have priority.
• One of the manifestations of the age of concentration will be the final rejection of any attempts to realize utopias such as communism in Russia and globalism in the West.
• With the demise of utopian conceptions, the futuristic mindset will probably also depart. Postmodernism foreshadows this. Its heightened, often ironic attention to the past has served to impress upon society the importance of having a retrospective view of things. As it develops, postmodernism laughs less and less. At a certain point, it begins to sound a lot like the Middle Ages. We are entering an epoch when the phrase “social progress” will sound unconvincing, and the words “past” and “present” will outweigh the word “future.”
A metaphysical future? This is at the core of the new book project. I can hardly wait to get started! I predict that it will do me a world of good to focus fully on a project filled with hope.
I would just add that the “nocturnal” period in the West was the Age of Benedict, in which the monks regathered the spiritual energies that had been spent when Roman civilization fell. The culmination of this was the Age of Francis & Dominic, who scattered what Benedict had gathered. (This idea is not mine; it came from G.K. Chesterton.) My Benedict Option idea is an exhortation to gathering in. Only by gathering in can we preserve and start replenishing the spiritual energies that have been wasted over the last two or three centuries.
UPDATE: Reader D.W. sends this link to the text of The Crisis of Our Age online, which is free to read.
leave a comment
Father McWilliams Guts A Family
Hi all, from DFW airport — been traveling back from California for most of this day. I want to bring to your attention this long piece by J.D. Flynn in The Pillar, an independent Catholic news service. Here’s the editor’s note with which it begins:
Cleveland priest Fr. Robert McWilliams was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday, after the priest pled guilty to federal child trafficking, child abuse, and child exploitation charges.
McWilliams, 41, was ordained a priest in 2017. He was arrested in 2019, and pled guilty to federal charges in July of this year.
At his Nov. 9 sentencing hearing, the mother of four boys preyed upon by McWilliams urged a life sentence.
That mother and her family told The Pillar their story.
Stop right there. Look at those dates. This guy McWilliams was so out-of-control that he started going after kids as soon as he got out of seminary. The mother of one of the victims — all males — sat down with Flynn to talk about what happened. He gives the mom a pseudonym, “Rachel Christopher,” and writes:
Rachel is talking about it, she tells me, because she does love the Church. And she does love her family. And she knows the Lord is calling her to speak.
“I feel that God is calling — I feel like it’s a responsibility and I feel it would be totally wrong for me to do nothing and say nothing. I’m doing this for love of my Church and for other people and love of children and love for other parents. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else— this is for our Church and it’s for Jesus too, because he’s hurting.”
Rachel tells me she also wants to tell her family’s story because she wants the Church to know they’re human beings — real people, real Catholics, with real pain. She says that when someone in your family is abused by a priest, it’s easy for diocesan officials to see you only as potential litigants, ready for a lawsuit. Or to see you as people who just want to harm or embarrass the Church.
That’s not her family, Rachel says. They want to help the Church in very specific ways. They want good to come from what they’ve suffered. Rachel wants to witness, too, to the faithfulness of the Lord.
And that means, Rachel says, she wants to tell me what actually happened. She wants people to hear it.
“Ok. I just want to do God’s will. Lord Jesus. I just want to do God’s will.”
Litany accomplished, she begins.
I suppose I don’t have to spend much time telling you what happens next. But you should read the whole thing anyway, because the sick head games that this manipulative predator played on his boy victims and their families is mind-boggling. How does someone so disturbed get through the seminary system today, after all we have learned?
I suppose there is no foolproof way, given how devious and intelligent many predators are. But Flynn talked to local Catholics who said they knew something was wrong:
Other Catholics who knew McWilliams saw red flags too.
Several Catholics in Cleveland told me that they had observed McWilliams interact with teens before his ordination, and that his closeness, and familiarity with them seemed inappropriate for an adult.
One Catholic in Rachel’s parish community recalled that McWilliams had several “furry heads” — large, expensive animal faced masks, associated with the furry subculture. Parents were mostly unaware of the alternative culture associated with the masks, and McWilliams encouraged children to wear them. More than once, he posed for pictures with children wearing the mask.
Had he owned the heads during seminary? Had anyone noticed them?
The same Catholic said her family visited McWilliams at the seminary. His behavior was unusual, she said. “He laughed about how much control he had over the other seminarians. Because they were not allowed to go into his room, they were not allowed to touch anything. They knew their place. Even so much as in the tv room, he had a place on the couch. When he walked in, they did not sit in his place. They got up and moved for him.”
A former seminarian, who studied at St. Mary’s for five years with McWilliams, was surprised when he learned about the priest’s arrest, but said in hindsight, he sees things about McWilliams’ years in seminary which give him pause.
“He was very good with technology, and he was very guarded about his personal life. But the one thing that really stuck out to me is that he was very good at sneaking things. So, like, we weren’t allowed to have alcohol in our rooms, but Bobby always had alcohol in his room, and he would invite people in to drink, you know?”
The former seminarian recalled a specific instance when McWilliams explained that he used his cell phone to avoid firewalls placed on internet use at the seminary.
“There was a firewall, and your formation advisor had access to anything that you searched [on your computer]. And I remember Bobby saying to us, waving his phone around, ‘Well, what’s the point of this? If you have [a cell phone], you can do whatever you want.’”
The former seminarian said McWilliams also would tell fellow seminarians that he could offer them guidance or counsel to get over pornography addictions — unusual behavior between seminarians, but one which seminary administrators seemed to approve.
The Pillar asked some detailed questions of the Diocese, which declined to respond.
Here’s something amazing: this woman, Rachel Christopher, is going out of her way to assert her allegiance to the Catholic faith, in spite of it all — but her diocese treats her and her family like kryptonite:
Before an early meeting with Archbishop Nelson Perez, who was Cleveland’s bishop until he was appointed to Philadelphia in January 2020, Rachel said she remembers that the family was given instructions from diocesan attorneys about what topics it was ok to talk with the bishop about.
Rachel thought it would be a pastoral meeting, but, like many conversations she has had with diocesan staffers, she felt like it was just a perfunctory exercise.
“And so you get to the point where you just shut down. You can’t even share from your heart. I remember thinking, like, are we just supposed to go and talk about the weather with him?”
“Everything they say to us, or about this, seems like it goes through legal, legal, legal.”
Her family has no intention to sue, Rachel told me, and she she’s told diocesan officials that. But she says she feels like the diocese has nevertheless held them at arms’ length, possibly afraid of a lawsuit.
“I told [the diocese] I wanted to work with them, to talk about what can be learned and what we learned. They seemed open to that at the time. But then nothing happens. So a meeting is nice, but nice isn’t good enough. Action is important.”
This is a stab in the heart:
“They should be concerned that Joseph [the pseudonym Flynn gives her son, a victim] isn’t going to Church. Like, that’s a tragedy. And that’s where I want to see them. What are they going to do about those souls now?”
“They were hurt through the Church, and now that they’ve left the Church, does the Church care? The primary mission of the Church is the salvation of souls — and do they show that their first concern is people who have been hurt through the Church, and have left the Church — including my son?”
“That’s one of my biggest sorrows right now.”
It raises some difficult questions. Where is the father in this narrative? Is he absent from the family’s life — and is that what gave the predator priest an in? That’s what I speculated when I read it, and so did a lot of folks, judging by Twitter. DM’ing with J.D. Flynn, he said that’s a misreading of the story. He chose to focus on the mother for narrative reasons, not because the dad is absent.
Another question I have is about Rachel’s fierce proclamations of her unshakable Catholic faith. I kept hearing in her going back over and over to say it the voice of someone desperately trying to convince herself to hold on. Then again, I could well be projecting my own experience onto her; I ran through similar arguments in my head like a drill, trying to hold on to my Catholic belief by force of will. On the other hand, maybe she genuinely has such a strong faith, and is trying to signal to other families that you can get through suffering like this with your faith intact. I just don’t know.
I think about that young man, “Joseph,” who was so cruelly manipulated and blackmailed by that pervert priest. Now, as you’ve read, he doesn’t go to church. I hope and pray that he comes back, eventually, but if he does, it seems like it won’t be through the efforts of the Cleveland diocese. If he remains away from the faith, and marries, and has children, and doesn’t raise them Catholic or Christian — think of the lost souls. All because of Father McWilliams and those who didn’t catch him in time, or care enough about his victims.
Again, though, when I think back on McWilliams’s evil plan, explained by Flynn, I marvel at the inventiveness of evil. Who could even have thought about things like that? I’m not talking about physical sexual acts — I’m talking about the ingeniousness with which he manipulated everyone. I hope McWilliams dies in prison. And may God restore that family, and bless Rachel Christopher for having the courage to speak to a reporter about it. As hideous as all this is, we need to know that it happens, so we can do what we can to stop it, and to figure out how to survive it without losing our faith.
UPDATE: I forgot that The Pillar reported last month allegations from three former Cleveland seminarians that the seminary leadership did not take their protests against a priest who allegedly sexually harassed them, and engaged in grooming behavior. What is going on at that seminary? Is this another one of those lavender mafia things?
A Catholic reader last week sent me a link to a prominent Jesuit’s newsletter — the Nov. 7 issue, in which Father praised a controversial book. Excerpt:
One of the books that’s gotten some attention is “Gender Queer”, a graphic novel memoir about a young person slowly coming to the understanding that they’re non-binary, that is to say they don’t identify as being either male or female but draw elements from both and use different pronouns such as “they/them”.
I had the chance to read “Queer” over the summer. I really liked it. It’s drawn in this very open and cartoonish way that really captures the innocence of author Maia Kobabe. And you end up taking the journey to self-discovery with them. If you’re at all puzzled by the idea of nonbinary people or the use of different pronouns, I recommend it so highly.
At the heart of it the book banning seems to be about “protecting kids” from “dangerous ideas”, aka “I’m afraid that reading “Gender Queer” will make my baby sick in the head.” Which is obviously messed up and also sad, as really the book is an attempt to help queer kids understand what they’re going through. If you think “nonbinary” is hard for you to understand, try being the 10 or 15 year old person for whom the standard gender categories don’t fit. Where do you turn? Now imagine somebody’s parents trying to keep you (or your child) from resources that could help. It’s pretty messed up.
“Gender Queer” is available on Kindle and also in print. Could be a great Christmas present for someone, and a great way to reject some really bad thinking about society and sexuality.
Mmm-hmm. Here are some pages from “Gender Queer”. I’ve sanitized them a bit for your protection:
What kind of Catholic priest recommends a filthy book like that to teenagers? To be clear, I am NOT implying that the Jesuit who raved about this dirty book is an abuser. Not, not, not! What I do claim is that he has outrageously bad judgment on what’s appropriate sexual material for youth (and worse judgment about Catholic sexual teaching). This, in conjunction with the McWilliams story, makes me wonder, though, to what extent the judgment of the clergy today has been corrupted by the world’s rapidly declining standards on sexuality. I know, I know, there are tens of thousands of priests in this country, and there are a bunch of seminaries, with different internal cultures. I get that. What I wonder is if there may be an atmosphere in some seminaries in which the leadership is — how to put this? — less sensitive than they should be to what is sexually appropriate thoughts and behavior from seminarians and other priests.
Seriously, I cannot imagine a world in which it would be appropriate for a priest to give “Gender Queer” to a minor (or anybody, for that matter). And yet, this Jesuit priest warmly recommends this testimonial to “self-discovery”. How widespread would this recommendation be among the Catholic clergy? I wonder how the leadership at the Cleveland diocesan seminary would respond to “Gender Queer”.
leave a comment
Free Kyle Rittenhouse!
Have you been following the trial of Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse? This happened yesterday as Rittenhouse was testifying about events of that night:
J.D. Vance reacts, tweeting that this clip fills him with “indescribable rage”. More:
Watch this — he’s on fire, and he’s right to be.
The prosecution of Rittenhouse is a disgrace. pic.twitter.com/VS2DhcLXn8
— J.D. Vance (@JDVance1) November 10, 2021
Don’t know if you saw it, but in his testimony, Gage Grosskreutz, who was shot by Rittenhouse but survived, admitted that Rittenhouse didn’t shoot him until he (Grosskreutz) first pointed his gun at Rittenhouse.
We know that the two others Rittenhouse shot that night were Rosenbaum, the convicted criminal who chased him and tried to disarm him, and Huber, a protester who lunged at him on the ground, and hit him with a skateboard. Those seem to be clear-cut cases of self-defense, as with the Grosskreutz shooting. But the jury will have its say.
It’s a shame that Rittenhouse is even on trial. True, he was 17, and shouldn’t have been out on the streets that night. But what a sad story: a fatherless boy who wanted so badly to be a good man, to serve his community, to protect good people from bad ones. And this is where he is today. As J.D. Vance explains, tech media refused to let people raise money for Rittenhouse’s defense. They have decided that Rittenhouse is the enemy. This class of people have decided that people like Rittenhouse are the enemy.
I’m sick of it. Where, aside from J.D. Vance, are the Republican politicians who stand up for the Kyle Rittenhouses of the world? The tears of that boy on the witness stand ought to tear your heart out for what has happened to this country, and what the Machine does to someone like that.
leave a comment
‘Live Not By Lies’ Conference At Pepperdine
Hello from Pepperdine University, where the School of Public Policy is hosting a conference on Live Not By Lies. I’m watching a panel on soft totalitarianism in education. Mari Barke, the president of the Orange County Board of Education, is speaking.
She’s talking about how clearly the educational bureaucracy lies about Critical Race Theory in Schools. She said that it’s encouraging to see voters rising up and throwing out educrats who have allowed wokeness to deform schools.
“You are going to see people running for office who, I believe, really care about the children, running for school boards.” She said that you don’t have to be an expert to do this. “You have to care about not living by lies, but living by truth.”
Then Princeton’s Joshua Katz, a linguist and classicist, spoke. (Read what I wrote over a year ago about his persecution at Princeton.) He said before this crisis, “I was an unmarried agnostic who cared little more about anything but his job. I was a true believer in elite education.”
No more. He said he’s a Christian now who married the love of his life. And he no longer believes in elite education, because of the ideological capture by leftist ideologues. He said that now most linguists in the country won’t talk to him, “and the vast majority of current Princetonians want me fired.” He added that “living by lies has become the elite new normal.”
Katz put a plug in for founding new institutions like the University of Austin, on whose board of advisers he sits. “A few years ago I would have called this a ridiculous idea, but we were in a different place then,” he said.
“We need more than new temples for learning,” he said. He spoke of Vaclav Benda’s “parallel polis,” and the seminars that dissidents like him had in private homes under communism. Katz said he’s been told by students at his wealthy university tell him that their most important educational experiences have not been in classes, but in off-campus seminars, “often at the Witherspoon Institute, which owns a lovely house near campus.”
Katz said that he’s taught a couple of those seminars, and that they are “filled with knowledge, argument, and laughter. There’s nothing clandestine about these seminars, which are advertised, but they are still something of a secret.”
“I promise you this,” he said. “If I leave Princeton, my wife and I will open our home to students” seeking the truth.
Then came Habi Zhang, born in China, who is a public policy doctoral student in Purdue, though she first started studying in America here at Pepperdine. She said her experience in Chinese universities was prison like, with the teaching of all subjects “reduced to naked utility.”
She described contemporary China as having “a culture that has no use for truth, but only money and power.”
When she arrived at Pepperdine, Zhang said, “I felt I had died and gone to heaven.”
But since she arrived in the US, she has been shocked by how Americans are willing to throw away classical liberalism, and replace it with radical ideology. She described Critical Race Theory as fostering “competitive victimhood,” and spoke of how shocking it is to see “the American recreation of the Chinese Cultural revolution on full blast.”
For years, I have seen social justice warriors across American campuses shut down events they dislike, scream at professors who don’t support their views, or physically attack speakers they hate. I worry that the campus violence reveals a larger issue than the crisis of free speech. My concern has less to do with coddled American students’ intolerance for dissent or offense than that they are used as cannon fodder for the purpose of advancing an agenda—or indeed a revolution. As a student of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, I can hardly overlook the stunning similarity of the rhetoric and practice between BLM protestors who raise their fists and Red Guards who hold high the Little Red Book. To purge the upper echelons of power, Mao set a group of screaming, self-righteous Red Guards in clamorous motion. In the name of overthrowing the Four Olds (Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Customs), belligerent Red Guards demanded to assign new names to historical sites, destroyed statues and temples, burned books, and publicly reviled teachers and intellectuals. Once given license to denounce all authority, those young, radical students, some of them no older than fourteen, were emboldened to torture and kill the innocent.
For a decade, the Chinese Cultural Revolution thoroughly wrecked the economy, uprooted traditions, destroyed social trust by turning family members on each other, and worst of all, killed well more than a million people. One can only wonder how far its American replication will go.
Zhang said here at Pepperdine today: “I fled form a hard totalitarianism, Xi Jinping’s China, to land in a relatively soft form of totalitarianism.” She is horrified to find in America that “ideological loyalty a prerequisite for success in institutes of higher learning.”
She said Americans must realize that totalitarianism not only destroys freedom, but “it also destroys everything in humanity that is noble, decent, and ethical.”
In the discussion, Mari Barke said parents had better start paying much closer attention to what their kids are taught in school. She said that she hears from parents all the time expressing fear that their kids will be indoctrinated in college.
“You know what? Kids are being indoctrinated when they aren’t even thinking about college,” she said. “I’ve seen CRT in preschool. it’s really important that parents keep their eyes focused on what’s going on, and keep truth in front of them.”
Habi Zhang said that when she arrived in Indiana, she was so amazed by large homeschooling Catholic families in Indiana where people don’t give their kids cellphones, and where people’s social lives don’t seem driven by technology. She said, “I see true, fully humans in those lovely souls.” She wrote a “love letter” to those families here. Excerpt:
The Perrin neighborhood offers community members a comprehensible, supportive, and therefore loving world in which religious and cultural traditions are preserved and shared beliefs venerated. As a result, when for the past several years many patriotic Americans were fraught with a vague but genuine and pressing thought of “wanting their country back,” the Perrin folk never felt that they had lost their country because they saw in each other every day what America is and what Americans are. And I see in them the Americans I adore and the America I admire—a land of freedom, the home to a group of patriots and friends who are authentic, confident, spirited, joyful, self-respecting and respectful, devout, faithful, kind, generous, and whole-heartedly welcoming to an alien whose nationality and skin color and exotic accent bear no significance because she has one thing in common with them: She deeply appreciates the traditional American way of life. The Perrin folk have thus shown me in a tangible and personal way why America has for centuries attracted immigrants around the world. It never really is about the so-called American dream, at least not primarily; the charm is the fulfilling and delightful communal life that the diverse and vital American communities have offered humans, all of whom have an enduring and profound need for belonging and attachment.
The Perrin neighborhood also provides members a public space where social life, rather than the act of consumption, takes place. Consumption is a lonely and dreary activity, propelled by and prevalent in industrialized mass society. It has shaped much of the daily routine of our modern life. There is a feedback loop between consumerism and loneliness that is incessantly haunting the atomized individuals who keep themselves busy by surfing YouTube or shopping Amazon. For the past ten years, I was horrified to see many of my fellow Chinese transform from peons to dedicated consumers with impressive purchasing power who spend their off-work time in shopping malls, wheeling their toddlers around or strolling through stores with their elders. The shopping mall for Chinese is the only public sphere permitted by the state, except “the common good” is merely the goods that the people consume in common.
Rather than the antsy Chinese consumers who often find themselves lost in a fog of commodity choices or the hip Americans who wake up with a stranger in bed after a glittered Friday night, I see in the Perrin public sphere lively, and again earthy, gatherings where a group of neighbors and friends are comfortable and delighted in their settled forms of social life. Here no one is distracted by the “modern life” that is supposed to be inundated with emails, texts, or phone calls; they are effortlessly fully present and engaging each other with full attention. Hence, the precious moments I experienced in the Schaffer family gathering after the Easter Sunday Mass, George’s First Communion celebration, David’s birthday, or Farther Elliot’s ordination were reassuring because they vindicated my philosophical conviction that our deepest emotional needs can be satisfied only in genuine human companionship.
Zhang went on.
“I don’t understand why Americans are surrendering their individual autonomy to the state. Why they are putting raising their kids into the hand of the government? Maybe some of you can help me understand why so few Americans care about liberty.”
When the question came up about engaging students, Zhang said, “I don’t think you can engage wokesters. They are not interested in engagement. They are interested in dominance, period.”
Finally, all three panelists were asked about hope. Zhang she said she is not optimistic about the future here, but “my Christian faith does not allow me to be hopeless.”
Katz said, “I think people will wake up; I just hope I am alive to see it.”
Mari Barke said the victory in Virginia gives her great hope that it’s just the start of a rebellion.
Please check back — I’m going to be blogging each of the panels.
UPDATE: James Poulos (whose new book is Human Forever: The Digital Politics of Spiritual War) is here at the conference, and says that we really have to understand that it’s not going to be enough for people to all start going to church again.
He points out that the government’s vaccine policies are promulgated by agencies that are not democratically accountable.
“What is the actual government at this point? Where does actual sovereignty reside?” he said. “Is it something fundamentally hostile to the American way of life?”
He said why it is acceptable to go out and protest for social justice, but not acceptable to receive communion, or play the clarinet (which California Gov. Gavin Newsom banned on Thanksgiving last year)? He believes there is something more important going on here. Poulos speculates, “It is about changing our form of government without our consent.”
Julia R. Norgaard, a Catholic and the discussion’s moderator, wants to know why so many clergy are afraid of the state, and accepted the state’s designation that churches are non-essential institutions. She said, “For Californians, you know that marijuana shops were deemed essential, but churches were not.”
Poulos later said that he believes that Covid gave certain elites an opportunity to remake America. We are watching the emergence of a social credit system that begins with people having to sign off on woke ideology before being allowed to participate in institutional life. He believes that Covid proved that Americans would accept baseless commands.
Talking about the government being a proponent of soft totalitarianism, Lance Christensen, a Mormon, recalled the Prop 8 fight in the first decade of the 20th century was a perfect example of this in action. Despite Prop 8 forbidding same-sex marriage passing muster with the voters, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom didn’t care, and instituted it anyway.
Christensen worked in California state politics for years, and said that here, they have only two parties: one of cats and one of kneecappers. “The cats don’t like to be told what to do, so the kneecappers always win,” he said. The Right has to figure out what it’s for, and willing to do to defend its values. Norgaard, the moderator, asked Christensen if he worried in light of the new line from rising conservative politicians like J.D. Vance (that the government should be more active to promote conservative views), Christensen said the answer depends on whether liberal democracy is over, or can be saved. He’s not sure, but he said that the only way we are ever going to be able to push back effectively against the institutional power of wokeness is by rooting ourselves firmly in faith.
(I hope to talk to him more about that point after the panel. I would agree with him in two senses: 1) that we have to have a positive vision of the Good for which to fight, and 2) that our faith has to give us the strength to withstand suffering and defeat without collapsing.)
Julia Norgaard asked about the role failure to have faith in institutions plays in bringing about soft totalitarianism.
“I wish I had faith in my government. I wish I had faith in the churches. I wish I had faith in the families; families have been hollowed out,” said Lance Christensen. He went on to say that, “Coming out to forums like this is fun, but the real things that matter is the activism that happens in our neighborhoods and homes.”
Poulos said that what’s wrong with the institutions is that they are not going to survive in a world in which everyone has a smartphone and plugging it into our brains all the time. “We have to accept the fact that we are cyborgs now,” he said.
He added that it is not clear that most people want to live in a world free from digital devices. Poulos: “The thought that institutions built to rule the world, in a liberal international sense, is able to extend control over those devices is being proven out not to be true. Liberal democracy [in not] proving itself capable of controlling these technologies.”
He said the only way liberalism can survive is if it gives up on globalist internationalism. Cultures all around the world are going to have to figure out a way to regain some sense of national control of the Internet. And most important, we are going to need “a spiritual and cultural renaissance.”
(Poulos really has the crowd on his side. I’m eager to read his new book.)
William Voegeli, senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books, points out that wokeness is not popular among the masses, even non-white people. “As California has gotten less white, affirmative action has gotten less popular,” he said. This suggests that even as the “successor ideology” has captured the elites, whenever it is put to a vote, the people reject it.
UPDATE.2: In the third and final panel of the day, panelists are talking about soft totalitarianism and the church. We have Elizabeth Corey from Baylor, the Solzhenitsyn scholar Dan Mahoney of Assumption College , and John Wood Jr., of Braver Angels, an organization that tries to bring left and right together for dialogue.
Before they started talking about church life, the panelists gave short reflections about what they’ve seen so far. Corey says that there are professors like her at Baylor who aren’t on board with the woke program, and they are organized resisters. She says that the most elite institutions may be lost, but there is good work to be done at less elite colleges. Corey says she has a network of sympathetic faculty all over the country, and they trade strategy notes all the time. This is hopeful.
Dan Mahoney said that he believes things are much worse than Elizabeth Corey does, saying that he has seen the same kind of mendacity at smaller colleges.
Turning to the church topic, moderator Pete Peterson, who runs the public policy school at Pepperdine, said he doesn’t think that the American church thinks and talks enough about what happened to Christians and others under Soviet totalitarianism. Mahoney said that it really is true that Americans just don’t know about the gulag — and that leaves us vulnerable. Mahoney said, “We don’t face gulags, but we face an immanent totalitarian logic that could destroy the foundations of our democracy.”
Corey said that she has read and thought about wokeness a lot. At the same time, she thinks we should recognize that wokeness is not the same everywhere, and not at the same strength everywhere. She said that she personally knows the resistance now forming within higher ed circles.
“It is our obligation as Christians to engage with the other side,” she said, with a nod to John Wood. “We do that by engaging the Christian virtues of charity and humility. If we don’t do that, in my view, we are not leading an authentic Christian life.”
Peterson asked John Wood, Jr. to consider that we are in a different situation than we as a country were in Dr. Martin Luther King’s era. Back then, for all our divisions, we shared a sense of cultural unity that simply doesn’t exist today. Wood replied by saying that we have to keep pushing with love to find empathy with each other.
Recalling Habi Zhang’s question that she doesn’t understand why Americans are willing to hand power over to the state, Wood said that there are plenty of examples — especially from the African-American experience — in which the state had to intervene to stop great injustice. Wood went on to talk about how important it is to refuse the temptation not to talk to each other.
“We can’t win without using the power of love and goodwill to lead a transformation in the soul of America,” he said.
Mahoney responded by saying that most of what Wood said is true, but that we have to understand that there really are some people that we can’t talk to. If someone demands that you accept their premises before they will speak to you, then there’s no point. He went on to quote a French priest who was a world authority on Marxist ideology, but who warned anti-communists to be very careful about dialoguing with Communists, for fear that Christians would be disarmed by the Marxist mode of discourse. If I understand the professor correctly, he was saying that if Marxist interlocutors see dialogue as nothing more than an opportunity to conquer an enemy, then the entire exercise is corrupted by bad faith.
Peterson asks the panel to talk about the courage that will be required of Christians who don’t have any chance to dialogue with people who run institutions crushing them, and never have the chance to appeal to them to stop.
“I think the elemental question you’re asking is how you love people who are oppressing you,” Wood said.
Peterson said, “I want to press the point a little further. We are not at a place of equal power. They do have the power to oppress.”
Wood said Dr. King had to deal with this all the time. “The Gospel set a very high standard. … Jesus, in the midst of being crucified, said, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.'”
Wood said that we have to realize that one thing we all share in common is that we all suffer from a history of pain and brokenness, simply by virtue of being human — and that we all share sin.
Mahoney, again, stood on the idea that we can’t forget that there are people who hold to an ideology that keeps us from holding a real dialogue. Still, we can’t forget that they might believe a terrible ideology, but they remain human, which is to say that they are made in the image of God. Keeping that clear is a real spiritual challenge.
Mahoney said there are two errors to be avoided: 1) the radical subjectivization of truth (“my truth”), and 2) the view of the Catholic integralists who believe that we should create a state that produces “a despotic application of the truth”. Our problem today is irrational relativism tied to toxic moralism.
Corey, on what professors should do: “It is our responsibility as academics to say, “That’s not right, and here’s why. I’m going to lay it out and do it civilly, and, I hope, fairly. People don’t have to listen — that’s beyond my control — but we have to say what we believe to be true.”
She went on to say that if we really are committed to truth, we have to be prepared to suffer for it. If we believe Christianity is true, then we must expect that this could happen.
Wood said: “Dr. King said love and power have to go together. Love without power is weak and anemic, and power without love is authoritarian and brutal.”
John Wood is really impressive. Corey and Mahoney are old friends of mine, but I didn’t know of Wood before. But I’m going to be following him now. It strikes me, listening to him that all anti-woke activists should study Dr. King and the civil rights movement, and embrace their tactics. That line of King’s he brought up defines my concern about the way some of us resist wokeness: it is without love, and in fact sees those who love and respect others as weak.
leave a comment
University Of Unwoke
What terrific news! I knew this was coming, and today it’s official: the University of Austin is here. From Pano Kanelos, its president:
But in these top schools, and in so many others, can we actually claim that the pursuit of truth—once the central purpose of a university—remains the highest virtue? Do we honestly believe that the crucial means to that end—freedom of inquiry and civil discourse—prevail when illiberalism has become a pervasive feature of campus life?
The numbers tell the story as well as any anecdote you’ve read in the headlines or heard within your own circles. Nearly a quarter of American academics in the social sciences or humanities endorse ousting a colleague for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences. Over a third of conservative academics and PhD students say they had been threatened with disciplinary action for their views. Four out of five American PhD students are willing to discriminate against right-leaning scholars, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.
The picture among undergraduates is even bleaker. In Heterodox Academy’s 2020 Campus Expression Survey, 62% of sampled college students agreed that the climate on their campus prevented students from saying things they believe. Nearly 70% of students favor reporting professors if the professor says something students find offensive, according to a Challey Institute for Global Innovation survey. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports at least 491 disinvitation campaigns since 2000. Roughly half were successful.
On our quads, faculty are being treated like thought criminals. Dorian Abbot, a University of Chicago scientist who has objected to aspects of affirmative action, was recently disinvited from delivering a prominent public lecture on planetary climate at MIT. Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University, finally quit in September after years of harassment by faculty and administrators. Kathleen Stock, a professor at University of Sussex, just resigned after mobs threatened her over her research on sex and gender.
At some future point, historians will study how we arrived at this tragic pass. And perhaps by then we will have reformed our colleges and universities, restoring them as bastions of open inquiry and civil discourse.
But we are done waiting. We are done waiting for the legacy universities to right themselves. And so we are building anew.
I mean that quite literally.
As I write this, I am sitting in my new office (boxes still waiting to be unpacked) in balmy Austin, Texas, where I moved three months ago from my previous post as president of St. John’s College in Annapolis.
I am not alone.
Our project began with a small gathering of those concerned about the state of higher education—Niall Ferguson, Bari Weiss, Heather Heying, Joe Lonsdale, Arthur Brooks, and I—and we have since been joined by many others, including the brave professors mentioned above, Kathleen Stock, Dorian Abbot and Peter Boghossian.
We count among our numbers university presidents: Robert Zimmer, Larry Summers, John Nunes, and Gordon Gee, and leading academics, such as Steven Pinker, Deirdre McCloskey, Leon Kass, Jonathan Haidt, Glenn Loury, Joshua Katz, Vickie Sullivan, Geoffrey Stone, Bill McClay, and Tyler Cowen.
We are also joined by journalists, artists, philanthropists, researchers, and public intellectuals, including Lex Fridman, Andrew Sullivan, Rob Henderson, Caitlin Flanagan, David Mamet, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sohrab Ahmari, Stacy Hock, Jonathan Rauch, and Nadine Strossen.
We are a dedicated crew that grows by the day. Our backgrounds and experiences are diverse; our political views differ. What unites us is a common dismay at the state of modern academia and a recognition that we can no longer wait for the cavalry. And so we must be the cavalry.
It will surely seem retro—perhaps even countercultural—in an era of massive open online courses and distance learning to build an actual school in an actual building with as few screens as possible. But sometimes there is wisdom in things that have endured.
The university as we know it today is an institution that originated in 11th-century Europe. The fact that there have been universities for nearly a thousand years—despite all the extraordinary changes in the nature of knowledge and communications technology in that time—tells us something important.
We believe human beings think and learn better when they gather in dedicated locations, where they are, to some extent, insulated from the quotidian struggle to make ends meet, and where there is no fundamental distinction between those who teach and those who learn, beyond the extent of their knowledge and wisdom.
We believe that the purpose of education is not simply employment, but human flourishing, which includes meaningful employment. We are therefore also reconceiving the relationship between a liberal education and the demands of our dynamic and fluid professional world.
Our rigorous curriculum will be the first designed in partnership not only with great teachers but also society’s great doers—founders of daring ventures, dissidents who have stood up to authoritarianism, pioneers in tech, and the leading lights in engineering and the natural sciences. Our students will be exposed to the deepest wisdom of civilization and learn to encounter works not as dead traditions but as fierce contests of timeless significance that help human beings distinguish between what is true and false, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. Students will come to see such open inquiry as a lifetime activity that demands of them a brave, sometimes discomfiting, search for enduring truths.
This core purpose—the intrepid pursuit of truth—has been at the heart of education since Plato founded his Academy in 387 B.C. Reviving it would produce a resilient (or “antifragile”) cohort with exceptional capacity to think fearlessly, nimbly, and inventively. Such graduates will be the future leaders best prepared to address humanity’s challenges.
Pano Kanelos was the president of St. John’s College. He left to help found this new university. I cannot express strongly enough how thrilled I am by this! Please, if you are a donor to a college that has gone woke, redirect your donations to the University of Austin.
At the NatCon event last week, there was some talk in the hallways about how we all know what we are against — wokeness — but what are we for? The University of Austin is a concrete answer. More power to them!
leave a comment
The Return of ‘San Francisco Democrats’
I just don’t get the Democrats. Liberal talking heads are still ranting and raving about how white supremacy is responsible for Terry McAuliffe’s loss in Virginia last week — this, because of the controversy over Critical Race Theory in Virginia schools. The Left’s reaction to the CRT controversy is a version of the Law of Merited Impossibility. It’s like, We are not teaching Critical Race Theory in the schools, and it’s a good thing we are, you white supremacists! That is, it’s as if you can only recognize the presence of CRT if you are eager to praise it.
The fact that Virginians elected a black Republican lieutenant governor is taken as more evidence that they are white supremacists, because Winsome Sears is not really black. Seriously, this is what talking head Michael Eric Dyson ranted about to Joy Reid:
MSNBC guest on @WinsomeSears:
“There is a black mouth moving but a white idea running on the runway of the tongue of a figure who justifies and legitimates the white supremacist practices.” pic.twitter.com/P3O8ciTveG
— Jewish Deplorable (@TrumpJew2) November 5, 2021
According to CNN’s exit polling, 61 percent of whites voted for Sears, who is black:
They voted for her because they are conservatives, and so is she. It can’t be possible in the mind of the American left that someone could vote not on race, but on political conviction — so they convince themselves that Winsome Sears, a Jamaican immigrant, Christian, US Marine veteran, small business owner, and former homeless shelter manager, is not really black.
What terrible people they are, the Michael Eric Dysons and Joy Reids. But you see why their fanaticism is so unattractive to normal people. They demand that you vote their way, and think their way, or you are a racist — even if you are black! Gosh, I can’t imagine why more people aren’t drawn to a party that embraces this garbage.
Do the Democrats not grasp that ordinary Americans hear what the Left says about “whiteness” as evil? If you tell people that they are wicked by virtue of the color of their skin, you should not be surprised when they don’t vote for you. To be fair, I am not aware of specific Democrats who have done that (though there may be some). But who among the Democrats speaks out clearly and unequivocally against this neoracism? They don’t because they don’t want to antagonize their base, which embraces it. Fine, but don’t be surprised when actual white people hear you loud and clear, and vote for candidates from the party that doesn’t hate them.
Similarly, consider the Democratic Party’s views on crime and punishment. We all saw their reaction to the 2020 race riots and looting. San Francisco is a liberal city that elected a District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, descended from Marxist royalty, who campaigned on a soft on crime theme — “decarceration” and the like. Crime, already bad there, is now out of control in that city now. Look:
I hope “tolerating burglaries” sounds good to you, because this it coming to every American city that doesn’t strenuously oppose it. https://t.co/ciymxe2wi0
— Abigail Shrier (@AbigailShrier) November 7, 2021
Click on the SF Chronicle story. This is not a joke: people in San Francisco really are wondering if their city should become Brazilified. Thomas Chatterton Williams, on the same story:
Speaks to the total insanity of the moment. I mean, really, What to do 🤷🏽♂️ pic.twitter.com/4hfxheubKE
— Thomas Chatterton Williams (@thomaschattwill) November 6, 2021
Kramerbooks is just off Dupont Circle, in a very nice part of Washington. If this is happening next to Kramer’s, and police just ignore it, then DC is going to hell.
Back to San Francisco. Look at this clip, taken by a tourist. You might be mad that the cable car guy is just eating his sandwich and watching, but would you risk getting shot to intervene?
FISHERMAN’S WHARF SMASH & GRAB
Sophia Massad, a musician from Oklahoma, shared this video w me of a smash-and-grab she witnessed in broad daylight on 11/1 at Hyde/North Point. She said she was in SF for Outside Lands, was shocked and frightened to see this brazen burglary @KPIXtvpic.twitter.com/oW8qq3bXMX
— Betty Yu (@BettyKPIX) November 6, 2021
Another, maybe the same crew:
More footages from the incident happened near #GoldenGateBridge#SF#SanFrancisco. Too bad I wasn’t there, could’ve had a chance at that 💯k that Mayor @LondonBreed offers! #BayArea I heard the car was stolen, plate was stolen. Do you recognize these thugs? Chance at 💯? pic.twitter.com/qxOic0rXOj
— SFGAL (@SFGAL8) October 25, 2021
Here’s a response to the Chronicle story on Twitter — achingly liberal:
Root cause analysis: Why are people stealing? If it is because they can’t earn a living wage, fix that and see what happens.
— Moor (@reedmoor163) November 6, 2021
It’s almost like liberals cannot deal with the human capacity for evil.
Who wants to live in a city run by soft-on-crime liberals like SFO Mayor London Breed, and DA Chesa Boudin? Remember, San Francisco is the city where the lunatic school board couldn’t get the schools back open during Covid, but wasted time and money on a plan (now scrapped) to rename the city’s schools to scrub memory of historical monsters like, um, Abraham Lincoln and Paul Revere.
It is time for the Republican Party to resurrect Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s insult in her 1984 GOP Convention speech, smearing “the San Francisco Democrats.” Kirkpatrick was a hawkish neoconservative Democrat whose speech was about foreign policy. The Democratic convention that year, the one that nominated Walter Mondale, was held in San Francisco, which even then was a symbol of far-left liberal governance. Well, almost 40 years later, “San Francisco Democrats” symbolizes a political party that is so paralyzed by its own crackpot dogmas that it cannot govern, and allows a city to be overrun by actual criminals, and ideologues who take over institutions and ruin them. And remember: the people of San Francisco elected these leaders.
Longtime readers know that I am a conservative, but not a Republican. I quit the party in 2008, angry over the Iraq War and the party’s coddling of Wall Street (to be fair, since the Clinton administration, the Democrats have been Wall Street’s best friends too). The GOP does not impress me, and I have voted Democratic in local elections (e.g., for Louisiana governor). That said, the past four years of the Great Awokening and its effect on the Democratic Party has made it all but impossible to consider voting Democratic. I’m a white male Christian: why should I vote for a party whose most strident voices openly hate me, my family, and my friends? Why should I vote for a party overseeing the march of woke radicals through institutions which they ruin by mainstreaming their insane theories?
Watch at least some of Winsome Sears’ victory speech. It’s proud and hopeful and patriotic. Compare this to the unhinged, bigoted ranting of Michael Eric Dyson, whose views mirror those of the Democratic Party’s elites. Which one has a more appealing story to tell America? More than half the white Virginians who voted for lieutenant governor voted for Winsome Sears — and that victory speech tells you why. The more the Democratic Party doubles down on its anti-white racism and soft-on-crime squish-headedness, the better things look for the GOP. The Sears family lives in Winchester, Virginia. I’ll take Winchester Republicans over San Francisco Democrats any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.
UPDATE: J.D. Vance said the other day, and Batya Ungar-Sargon said on CNN this weekend, that this is class war masquerading as culture war. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Amy Siskind, with 524,000 Twitter followers, on “these women”:
On that CNN clip about the so-called white suburban women – the narrative is complete bullsh%! College educated white woman voted for McAuliffe by a bigger margin than Biden. Non-college white women gave it to Youngkin- and the reason is simple: racism- they don’t want progress.
— Amy Siskind 🏳️🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) November 7, 2021
I join others in being dismayed and disgusted by these women. I don’t know how to reach non-college educated white women. The women I can connect with and influence are college educated white women. I am open to suggestions of ways of doing so ahead of 2022. Bring it!
— Amy Siskind 🏳️🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) November 7, 2021
Can’t imagine why non-college-educated white women wouldn’t want to vote for a party run by white women like Amy Siskind, who hate them.
UPDATE.2: A reader writes:
This is all about powerful left-wing women signaling to any professional women who want as much as to co-exist with the right understand that they will be punished for it. Educated women skew left, even hard left. What do you think is going to happen when those educated, privileged white women clash with angry, economically marginalized white men?
UPDATE.3: Reader Jonah R. comments:
I just looked on the NPR website. There’s been only one story about Winsome Sears since the election, and it’s an overview of how black conservatives “walk a fine line.”
She hasn’t been mentioned in the New York Times since the November 3 story “Election losses leave U.S. Democrats reeling.”
She hasn’t been mentioned in the Washington Post since the November 3 story announcing her win.
If she had a “D” after her name, they’d already be cranking out the action figures, T-shirts, and children’s books.
And the truth is, she’s a very interesting, accomplished person. She’s an immigrant, attended a community college, became an electrician, served in the military, attended non-elite colleges, ran a homeless shelter, and owns an appliance and plumbing-repair store. Compared to someone like Kamala Harris, who has spent her entire life in politics and law, Winsome Sears is a breath of fresh air. She reminds me of people I know who have more inborn political savvy than people who live and breathe politics. People like her know how to get things done, and others, especially their foes, gravely underestimate them.
I was in the car over the weekend, listening to NPR. At the top of the newscast, they reported that another barrier had been broken in racial progress. Thanks to Biden, the US Census Bureau now had its first Latinx (yes, NPR uses that stupid fake term that Latinos hate) director. This is what makes headline news at NPR these days: a bureaucrat of the right ethnic background running a government agency. But not Winsome Sears.
leave a comment
Hating White Women As Progressive Virtue
When future historians sort through the ruins of America, columns like this racist, sexist trash from the Daily Beast will be evidence of who killed this country, and how they did it. The author is Wajahat Ali, who devotes an entire unhinged rant to denouncing white women — “Karens”. Excerpts:
As a student of American history and a person of color, I never underestimate the white, hot rage, anxiety, and resentment of a Karen scorned. You might think you’ve won them over with Beyonce, Oprah, chai latte, and henna, but the cult of Karen will always turn on people of color on a dime to uphold oppressive systems that ensure they remain influential and powerful handmaidens of white supremacy.
Don’t believe me? According to an NBC exit poll, 75 percent of white women without college degrees voted for Glenn Youngkin for Governor in Virginia, compared to 56 percent who went for Trump in 2020. They voted for a man whose single campaign message was about stopping the manufactured bogeyman of Critical Race Theory, the latest incarnation of the Southern Strategy, which most of his voters can’t define and isn’t taught in schools, but they are certain it is absolutely terrifying and worth canceling because it’s making their kids hate white people and become transgender.
In some bright news, 62 percent of college-educated white women went for Democrat Terry McAuliffe, up from 58 percent who went for Biden last year. But overall a majority of white women, around 57 percent, went for Youngkin—a remarkable 15-point swing from 2020 when 50 percent went for Biden and 49 percent for Trump.
I’m not surprised.
Good grief. These people are absolutely ineducable. If you are a leftist who believes that Critical Race Theory is a fake controversy, you are completely out of touch with reality. These white women weren’t voting to ensure that they remained “powerful handmaidens of white supremacy.” They were voting to defend their children from fanatical racists like Wajahat Ali and his allies in the education bureaucracy. Democrats who cannot accept this basic truth are going to keep losing.
The world of Wajahat Ali is so perverse that even black and brown people who don’t share his radical ideology are fake black and fake brown people:
Talking about this racism also apparently makes you a racist, as I learned last night on social media from my many adoring GOP-voting fans. They assured me they’re not racist, because they also elected conservative Winsome Sears as the state’s first female, Black lieutenant governor! You might remember her defiant picture posing with a rifle, which is totally normal, and means she’ll be able to shoot the coronavirus and CRT away. Republican Jason Miyares, a son of Cuban immigrants, also won as attorney general, and he provides further cover of color to many of these white women and GOP voters who delude themselves into believing they have “zero racist bones in their body” because they elected two people of color. Of course, no person of color has ever caped for whiteness, embraced racist policies, and echoed racist dog whistles to attain fame, fortune, or political office. Oh, hello, Candace Owens and Larry Elder! Sorry, I didn’t see you, the ghost of Herman Cain!
Back here on Planet Earth, who but a masochistic white liberal would actually vote for candidates who support educational policies that demonize them, their children, and their spouses on the basis of race? Does Wajahat Ali not recognize that these white women he condemns in these columns have white husbands, white fathers, and white sons, who don’t appreciate their women being trashed by the likes of him? For that matter, don’t these loonies understand that many white women rightly regard their votes as defending the white men in their lives from the systemic race hatred that the Wajahat Alis and Terry McAuliffes of the world wish to institute?
To hell with these people. We need to say it louder, and more often. They are poisoning our country with their bigotries. We are better than that. It’s time we stopped being intimidated by them. Yes, they control the media and the culture-forming institutions, but we don’t have to surrender to them. The courageous and tireless Chris Rufo has shown what a single determined activist and his allies can do. We don’t have to live by the lies of the Wajahat Ali ruling class!
leave a comment
A Prophet Crying In The Valley
You have to see this hilarious garbage from Microsoft:
Woke Capital incarnate. pic.twitter.com/KHlfMzjOt9
— Balaji Srinivasan (@balajis) November 4, 2021
Wes Yang, tweeting part of the same cringey presentation:
This is why no election of a governor or president really matter with regard to these issues https://t.co/LrTJLdBJu3
— Wesley Yang (@wesyang) November 4, 2021
Yep. Yang’s remark highlights why culture is paramount regarding the advance and durability of wokeness. If telling everybody what your pronouns, race, hair color, and clothes are before addressing them is what it takes to work in a place like Microsoft, you will have people falling all over themselves to comply. There’s not a political solution to this. It’s certainly dorky, which is not the worst thing in the world, but behind these ridiculous woke rituals there’s a nasty ideology.
These clips bring to mind something I heard out in northern California last weekend, from a longtime tech employee in Silicon Valley (he’s deeply closeted as a Christian conservative): that the tech culture in the Valley is both ideologically monochromatic and utterly confident that it knows best for everybody. What happens in Silicon Valley does not stay there, because the people who run the tech industry have unparalleled reach into our lives.
In his latest Substack newsletter, Paul Kingsnorth writes:
I believe that we are heading fast into the creation of something unique in human history: a global anti-culture, entirely unmoored from reality itself, and at war with it. It is not limited to any particular political or cultural tradition: though it arose in the West, from peculiarities of Western history, it has since become universal. It manifests at present as a hybrid of two of the most successful products of modernity: capitalist economics and leftist politics. The hybrid is not as strange as it might seem: the modern project, whether infused with the theories of ‘left’ or ‘right’, whether presented by Karl Marx or Ayn Rand, is ultimately the project of liberating humanity from the chains of both nature and culture.
In a way, there is – or once was – a kind of nobility in this project, this attempt at breaking the bounds, soaring to the stars. It is the pursuit of cosmopolis which I wrote about here some weeks ago: a utopian attempt to replace religious and ethnic conflict with universal peace and love. But ideal societies have a nasty habit of turning into mirrors of the things they set out to replace. Liberatory ambition can never be sated. Like a dictator marching on Moscow, the Machine doesn’t know when to stop, and now we can see where this project of globalised liberation is leading us: into the world of the nihil, the empire of technique.
While in Orlando this week, I ran into a law student named Isaac Weitzhandler, who is studying at Stanford. He took up the law after first training as a scientist. At the National Conservatism conference, he was handing out copies of a self-published manuscript called Houllebecq In The Valley. He approached me and gave me one, knowing of my admiration for the French novelist. I read it on the way back home yesterday, and wrote this morning to my literary agent and my editor at Sentinel saying that I thought it had serious potential. Let me explain.
Weitzhandler (henceforth, “Isaac,” which is easier to write) has penned a book-length protest against the vapidity of our culture, and in particular the role of science and technology in dehumanizing us. It reads like an urgent cross between Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, Live Not By Lies, and How Dante Can Save Your Life. In fact, Isaac sounds like a Houllebecq character, if Houellebecq (pronounced “well-beck”) wrote about people who were mentally and spiritually sound. That is, Isaac recognizes the inhuman emptiness of contemporary culture, as Houllebecq’s characters do, but he is determined to resist it, not surrender to it. An excerpt:
So , what do we do when we find ourselves at home in a place that is evil?
We say no, knowing that the world will put us down, and understanding that it must be so. We know that all seems to be lost but we have something indomitable inside of us that makes it impossible to give up. And we try our best to feel the surges of love in our chests, to know that they come from God, and to decipher His meaning.
Our world is overwhelming and all-encompassing and impossible to stop, and we know that to stand up to it will be to be swept away.
All we can do is what Houellebecq has done, what Solzhenitsyn said was the key to our self-neglected liberation, which is to say and to swear:
I WILL NOT LIVE BY LIES.
The “valley” of the book’s title is Silicon Valley, where Isaac grew up. He was born in 1990, and is very angry — justly! — that the older generation did not preserve the institutions and ways of life that are necessary for the rising generation to have a normal, healthy life. Excerpt:
I didn’t learn until my twenties that Stanford had stopped teaching Western Civilization to all of its students before I was even born.
To even contemplate such a thing makes me weep. Didn’t anyone think of the children who would grow up aimless, wandering and lost?
I was one such child. I grew up in the aftermath; the ruins and destruction were all I ever knew. It took me years to even understand that there was something missing.
What does it mean to grow up in a civilization that has severed its tie with history? How can one be a child in such a world?
Well, in fact, a child is all you can ever be in such a world — and this has something to do with why Isaac’s generation is so amenable to totalitarian politics. From Live Not By Lies:
Forgetting the atrocities of communism is bad enough. What is even more dangerous is the habit of forgetting one’s past. The Czech novelist Milan Kundera drily observes that nobody today will defend gulags, but the world remains full of suckers for the false utopian promises that bring gulags into existence.
“Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever,” said Cicero. This, explains Kundera, is why communists placed such emphasis on conquering the minds and hearts of young people. In his novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Kundera recalls a speech that Czech president Gustáv Husák gave to a group of Young Pioneers, urging them to keep pressing forward to the Marxist paradise of peace, justice, and equality.
“Children, never look back!,” [cries Kundera’s character Husak], and what he meant was that we must never allow the future to collapse under the burden of memory.
A collective loss of historical memory—not just memory of communism but memory of our shared cultural past—within the West is bound to have a devastating effect on our future. It’s not that forgetting the evils of communism means we are in danger of re-creating precisely that form of totalitarianism. It’s that the act of forgetting itself makes us vulnerable to totalitarianism in general.
Put another way, we not only have to remember totalitarianism to build a resistance to it; we have to remember how to remember, period.
Isaac writes that discovering Houellebecq was finding a writer who describes the world in which he (Isaac) actually lives. That is, Houellebecq made him realize that he, Isaac, the dissident, the stranger to this world, was not insane. “We should all be asking ourselves: Who are we? Why are we here? What are we doing?” he writes. More:
Silicon Valley is a modern nightmare. It is a dystopia. It is an evil force in the world. It is an awesome, terrifying, and brutal machine that has unmade our humanity and reconstructed it in its own image.
In remaking our humanity it has left space only for the most limited ethical considerations. It is something that must be stopped, even though it has created a world in which it is increasingly impossible to say so.
What is needed is not to discuss how the Valley can be more “ethical,” or to talk about how it can be better “regulated,” but to say no to the whole thing, the entire project.
Michel Houellebecq says no to the world. In that, I join him.
One thing I love about this book is the directness and passion of the author’s voice. He writes prophetically without being a scold — not an easy thing to do. Isaac trained as a biomedical researcher, and says in the book that it’s an open secret in the field that scientists can’t reproduce results in a wide variety of fields. The scientism we live by is unwarranted, he says, but we keep living out this lie because we find it useful. It keeps the money flowing, and satisfies the public that Science Is In Command. Isaac is not at all anti-science, but says that the contemporary scientific field has grown alarmingly indifferent to results, satisfying itself with simply keeping the whole machinery rumbling along. Isaac says that it functions as “a money procurement and jobs program for themselves and for future generations of people like them.”
Isaac says that Houellebecq’s message to young people is that they live in a society that sells them an idea of what the good life is, but which makes it impossible to realize the good life. That is to say, the idea itself — the Design Your Life ideal — makes achieving a truly good life impossible. He explains the culture of the “personal statement,” in which institutional gatekeepers (e.g., college admissions personnel) as seventeen-year-olds to write a testimonial to their bespoke view of the world. But most people, especially teenagers, lack the experience or even the capacity to come up with something daring and original — nor should they have to. More:
For Houellebecq, most people do not have the capacity to make conscious choices about right and wrong in all or even most areas of their lives; they need norms to make for them a path of least resistance.
Stripped down to its essence, the goal of modern liberalism is to help each individual break free of all these norms. What I encountered as a student was the embodiment of this goal in our educational institutions.
In America, the personal statement is the opposite of a path of least resistance. It tells every young person: no matter how much you feel that there is a well-trodden path that is attractive to you, you must not follow it. You must take the path of most resistance, which is being a trail-blazer and making your own new path.
Isaac reflects on the bitter irony that his people, the Jews, endured centuries upon centuries of persecution and hardship. Some of them arrived in America, a place where they could finally live in peace. Now they have been assimilating themselves out of existence:
The crisis of intermarriage for American Jews has been well-documented. Centuries of forced expulsion, violence, rape, mass murder, and genocide did not so seriously threaten the continued existence of the Jewish people as modernity and secularism do today.
… For millennia, nothing has been more important to us than the survival of our people. Now we live in a country that leads us to throw it all away. And for what?
The people who built this system will cling onto it with everything they have because they don’t have anything else. How can I tell my cousins and aunts and uncles that everything they imbue with such importance — SATs and colleges and organic chemistry and all the rest — that it’s all worthless, that it’s worse than worthless, that it’s evil?
How is this what we believe in? Is there really nothing more around which to orient our lives? This abyss is what American have given us. And yet we can’t stop saying how great it is, and participating in all of its sacred rituals.
In this is an echo, from Live Not By Lies, of what the Budapest teacher Tamas Salyi told me: that free-market liberal democracy has done more to erase from the memory of the post-communist generation the substance of what it means to be Hungarian. What the slaves to the Soviets could not do, consumer capitalism has done.
Isaac’s writing about how hard it is to live out what all healthy civilizations expect of their young — marriage and family — is particularly wrenching. For example:
If you do manage to find someone with whom you want to start a family, you get no support from your society’s institutions: you’re on your own. If you fail, there are again no guiderails or safety nets: either one of you can leave, any time, with no consequences. Things just didn’t work out, that’s all.
Supposedly, we live in a culture that doesn’t prefer any specific individual or family arrangement, and instead leaves everyone free to choose. Really, we live in a culture that is against the family. Marriage as a norm is dead: you can still do it, but the one thing that you can’t do is proclaim your belief in its goodness.
Isaac says that Houellebecq’s idea of love as dependence on another — of sex as the union of two souls, and new life as the natural and blessed fruit of that union — is alien to Silicon Valley culture. More:
Houellebecq says that someone of my generation cannot feel his kind of love, or even understand it, and that if we could feel something like it, it would make us feel “uncomfortable, as if it were something ridiculous and a little shameful, like stigmata in ancient times.”
That’s not how I feel. I don’t know if I can feel his kind of love but I think I do, even if I can’t understand it. And it doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. No, reading his description fills me with a terrible longing for a world which I fear I will never know. That there were once truths and laws about love and family and sex that were unbreakable and more important than all of us — I can understand the idea but I don’t think I will ever feel it to be true. And I will never be able to make it true, even in my own little corner of the world, no matter how hard I try. Because even if I do manage to build my own little island, the violent sea will still be against us, and the best we will be able to do will be to hang on for dear life.
Isaac Weitzhandler is thundering in the desert here:
It’s monstrous what we’ve done; we’ve thrown away everything, all of it, and now people grow up in isolation and live lives of quiet desperation; at best they are able to construct a family for a few years, but still, the maxim of our world remains that we are born alone, live alone, and die alone.
… How can we call this by sterile names like increasing social atomization and fraying societal fabric? We should call it the destruction of love and happiness and the destruction of society too, because that’s what it is. How can it be that I have to strain so mightily just to say that this even exists? That it is so hard to say that saying it brings me to the point of insanity?
Later in the book, Isaac speculates as to why the DYL (Design Your Life) philosophy is winning. Excerpt:
It is selfish. The primary input is a want, and the method is built around just giving people what they already want. There is no moral imperative, no “should”; there is no interrogating the want, much less trying to change it; DYL just takes what we already wants as a given and tries to fulfill those wants. This is selfishness.
It is individualistic. There is no shared aspect of DYL: it offers no blueprint for a shared life with anyone — not even in marriage or family and certainly not in society in general. It is a kind of shared selfish dreaming, but instead of knowing that “the dream is teaching the dreamers how to live,” it tells us all to just keep dreaming.
Is is scientific. It seems technical and certain; it looks scientific because it has charts and quantities and arrows and flowcharts. It feels proven and valid to people. (Is this how people once felt about the Bible?) It is koumbaya and scientific at the same time: it is a new religion.
It destroys. It asks people to push beyond their limits and to make themselves uncomfortable, to go outside of their comfort zones. We are teaching ourselves to accept this in every context because we are against the very existence of moral imperatives (interdicts, as Rieff would call them). This is an instantiation of destroying: it is a way of reprogramming our minds.
It is all form, no substance. It uses positive-thinking slogans for something that is very insidious; it reformulates something bad with positive words so that you can’t criticize it. And by only talking about form, it seeks to give people control over their lives, but as long as they don’t know how to even begin to consider the substance, they are swept away.
We need to remind ourselves now: For the big questions, there may or may not always be answers, but there is certainly a lot of asking and thinking and reading and writing. Now, we deny all of this. DYL rejects the bigger questions, rejects any larger meaning or suffering or shared morality. It doesn’t even deny them explicitly; it simply assumes that they do not exist and fulfills its own prophecy by programming them out of existence in people’s minds.
It denies people’s suffering even as it also engenders it. And at the same time, it denies the beauty and profundity of mystery and what we don’t understand. It is destruction: it is anti-culture.
He is talking about soft totalitarianism. He is talking about the kind of totalitarianism that is described by Mustapha Mond, the. World Controller for Europe in Huxley’s Brave New World, praised as “Christianity without tears.”
One more passage:
To live here feels impossible — there is simply no help at all, for anyone, in anything. It is a brutal country full of shiny things to distract its people from the loneliness and suffering that it engenders. We are surrounded by sex and drugs and junk food and pornography and money and consumption. To say it sounds tired because we don’t even bother to denounce it anymore; it appears to us as normal, natural.
Nowadays LeBron James can say that the most important work of his life is becoming a billionaire and we all admire him for this, as if it is deeply moral. At least before we had some shame; we had retained enough of the remnants of a moral structure to know that we were supposed to be ashamed about just wanting to consume. But we’ve lost that now; there is no more second degree.
It’s a country where we’ve broken the chain. What else can we do? What can be done? How should we live? What is good and bad? What is right and wrong?
No one is there to tell me or anyone else. And it feels SHAMEFUL to even ask. We are ashamed of the idea that there might be things that we should and should not do, because all we want to believe is that we’re good and we should do whatever we want. This is the argument that gay marriage crystallized: if we want it, then it must be good.
We have eroded every possible moral structure that could stand up to that argument until they were all gone, and then a new barbarism swept through the gates.
Houllebecq In The Valley is an exhilarating read. Towards the end, Isaac quotes this from Houellebecq’s Serotonin:
God takes care of us; he thinks of us every minute, and he gives us instructions that are sometimes very precise. Those surges of love that flow into our chests and take our breath away — those illuminations, those ecstasies, inexplicable if we consider our biological nature, our status as simple primates — are extremely clear signs.
What happens after the coping doesn’t work?
Houellebecq has a definitive answer and a tentative one. The definitive answer is that we fight. The tentative answer is that we find God.
This is near to where the book ends. I hope and I pray that Isaac Weitzhandler finds a publisher for this extraordinary book, which is a scalding antidote to the Microsoft woke capitalism nonsense, and the worldview that produces such trivial crap as those videos with which I led this post. Isaac’s book is not ready for market yet — he needs to add to it, and for me, the thing that he needs to add most of all is an exploration of the God answer. If Isaac finds the right publisher and the right editor, this very good first draft could become a powerful, even viral, short book — a statement of generational rebellion, and a prophetic declaration of hope. What a blessing it was to run into this young man in the hallway of the Hilton in Orlando, and to receive his manuscript. If you are a publisher or an agent who would like to be in touch with Isaac, and to get a copy of the Houellebecq In The Valley manuscript, write me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com, and put ISAAC in all caps in the subject line.
UPDATE: A reminder: I am only offering to put you in touch with Isaac if you are a publisher or an agent. I am trying to help him get literary representation, and/or a publisher. Thanks.
leave a comment
The Baizuocracy At War
That’s an official US Marine Corps graphic, celebrating LGBT pride. Here’s a clip from the Talent Management 2030 document the Marine Corps commandant just released, talking about how they’re going to change the way they deal with personnel. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity has come to the USMC:
The reader who sent it to me is a veteran. He said this document (he sent the entire USMC paper) could have been taken from any generic multinational corporation. He adds:
My comment is that the priority should be to put together a skilled, cohesive and highly trained military force that can be exceedingly lethal when necessary. The line that diversity provides us a competitive warfighting advantage over our adversaries is entirely absurd.
The beauty of the military I grew up in was the oneness of the soldiers, airmen and sailors and singular commitment to the mission whatever that may be. When that uniform went on, there was no differences or diversity. In times of battle, the cohesion and commitment to each soldier to his brother is what gets them through.
The baizuocracy (my term for institutionalized wokeness, based on the Chinese slur word for “white leftists”), whether in the military or corporate America, loves to proclaim the dogma that Diversity Is Our Strength™. Maybe it is, in some ways, depending on the context. But that’s not how they mean it. They mean it in a dogmatic way. I was once part of a work team that was temporary demoralized by this lie, until the employee who was hired under a diversity initiative, but who could not do the work (forcing the rest of us on the team to take on extra duties to compensate for this incompetent person), moved on. But the senior military brass who promulgate these policies will be well set to go to work for a Woke Capitalist firm once they leave the armed forces.
Radical changes imposed on our military by progressives, begun in earnest during the Obama administration, are negatively impacting our combat readiness and jeopardizing the lives of our men and women in uniform and, ultimately, our national security. In Stand Down: How Social Justice Warriors Are Sabotaging America’s Military, author James Hasson elucidates how Barack Obama fundamentally changed military culture to make our nation less secure. Hasson, a former Army captain, Army Ranger School graduate, and Afghanistan veteran, argues that military readiness was sacrificed for identity politics and progressive rhetoric. He lists examples such as policies that established “safe spaces,” prohibited “micro-aggressions,” denigrated “hyper-masculine” traits, implemented unwise “green” standards and injected “social justice” guidelines in military operations.
In his revealing book, Captain Hasson describes how Obama’s military appointees, mainly progressive ideologues lacking military experience and hailing from academic, political, and the private sectors, were placed in charge of seasoned combat generals with decades of combat experience. The priorities, experience, and philosophies of the officers and appointees couldn’t have been more disparate.
Many senior military staff members suffered in silence at Obama’s attempt to use the military as a “laboratory for progressive social engineering,” according to Hasson. Exemplifying this shift was the naming of Navy ships after Leftist political heroes. Socialist labor-activist Cesar Chavez and slain gay-rights advocate Harvey Milk — who left the Navy for being gay — were among those who Ray Mabus, Obama’s secretary of the Navy, announced would have ships named after them. This practice flew in the face of the hallowed Navy tradition of naming ships after presidents and war heroes.
Obama, who, Hasson says, took pride in his lack of military knowledge and experience, made widespread changes to personnel policy, budgetary expenditures and resource allocations that harmed readiness, training and troop safety. Obama’s transgender policy of “mixed genitalia in the bathrooms,” took precedence over established military culture. Soldiers were judged by the gender they wished to be rather than their biological sex. Obama essentially used the military to lead social change in American society rather than preserving time-honored traditions that emphasized troop cohesiveness and readiness.
Where does that leave the rest of us? Well, there was this exciting news this week:
Royal Marines have forced US troops to surrender just days into a training exercise after eliminating almost the entire unit.
The British commandos “dominated” US forces during a training exercise in California, using a new battle structure.
The Telegraph understands the US forces asked for a “reset” half way into the five-day war fighting exercise, having suffered significant simulated casualties.
At one point in the battle, the commandos’ “kill board”, an intelligence assessment of the level of damage inflicted upon enemy equipment and units, had a tick against almost every American asset, indicating it had been deemed destroyed or rendered inoperable.
… The Royal Marines’ success was achieved by targeting the US headquarters and valuable equipment, paralysing counter-attacks from the Americans.
The USMC denies the story. I don’t believe them. A friend who is in a position to understand what happened says that the Royal Marines won by targeting the USMC’s command and control capabilities. This is a repeat of that last US-China wargame, in which China beat us quickly because it disable the US’s cloud capability. My source says that this is what happens when lower-level leadership are too afraid to take independent actions, because they are afraid what will happen to them if they do. This is why the Red Army collapsed so quickly in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion. Stalin’s purges had earlier cashiered competent commanders and replaced them with politically loyal yes-men. Friend says that aside from wokeness, the US military leadership culture has been conditioned to lie — witness the Afghanistan Papers, which revealed that senior US military officials knew for years that the Afghan war was unwinnable, but hid this from the public.
Who has been punished for this? Now we are supposed to believe that the Royal Marines didn’t kick the collective ass of the diverse, equitable, and inclusive US Marine Corps, on the say-so of the USMC?
As I mentioned in this space earlier this week, a frustrated and demoralized active-duty armed forces member told me in a face to face conversation the other day that the military leadership is more interested in winning the culture war over unwoke personnel than in winning actual wars against foreign adversaries. Seems to me like the Senate Armed Forces Committee should want to know what wokeness and corruption in the military leadership is doing to our war-fighting capabilities. Or does nobody in command care anymore? At the NatCon conference this week in Orlando, an active-duty service member stood and said that they didn’t really know what they were fighting for anymore.
When we lose a major war. And we will. 90% of the American public will be stunned. Heartbroken and stunned.
But all the signs are there. War game after war game. Naval embarrassment after Naval embarrassment. Our military is painted rust. Complete leadership rot at the top. https://t.co/rGLijCQgpD
— Jesse Kelly (@JesseKellyDC) November 3, 2021
UPDATE: From a reader:
Veteran here. The problem is bigger and deeper than what “pet” group is cause celibre for the moment. When the leaders of a society–and I mean this in a cultural sense more than anything else, e.g. the heroes, celebrities, talking heads and influencers of our day that are put forward as respectable, admirable and emulable–are loud and almost unanimous in their obsession with picking at the sins of America and putting those forth as explanatory of the entire ‘American experiment’, it should come as no surprise whatsoever that the military is weakened. In fact, if this is surprising to you, I have to question your faculty of reasoning.
A people might volunteer at risk of their own lives to defend, fight and even die for a nation whose ideals are held in high esteem and seen as worth preserving. But, as I have asked myself time and again lately, why the hell would anyone fight for a country they are told is fundamentally evil, racist, inferior, and not worth defending? The very people who serve in the government of this country speak of the need to radically tear down our institutions, and this isn’t just lip service–they seem to be doing a fine job at corrupting everything they touch. Well, the Chinese (feel free to substitute whatever other foe) can do that just as well as we can, so why fight and die for something that is horrible and needs to be destroyed anyway?
To believe we can politicize everything, leverage our institutions for corrupt purposes, demonize even the founding principles of our country, and yet still maintain a hot-to-trot fighting force merely by throwing trillions of dollars at it without regard for the strength and character of the individual soldier is absurd. Ours is a volunteer force made up of the citizens of the United States. Don’t expect the average character of that force to long remain above that of the “role models” put forth by our society on your social media feeds and television screens.