The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Capitalism and Culture

It is part of our nature as human beings that we both need and desire to live together in communities. Indeed, it is part of our very nature that the most basic human community, the fundamental unit of human society, the family, is one that we are born into upon entering the world, rather than one we voluntarily join. It is also part of our human nature that each of us is a unique person possessed of his own desires, intelligence, and will.

There is tension between these two aspects of our nature, a tension that is intensified by another aspect of human nature that is perhaps best described by the theological term “sin”. This tension creates the necessity for rules and for government with the authority to enforce those rules. Laws can be just or unjust to varying degrees. The more necessary a law is for the good of the whole community the more just it is. The more a law serves the interests of a part of the community rather than the good of the whole, the more unjust that law is. This is true regardless of whether the part of the community served be the few or the many, the rich or the poor, the high or the low. In the most just laws, the good of the whole community is in harmony with the good of each of the parts. Such laws are by nature few and Evelyn Waugh once wisely wrote that while man cannot live without rules they should be “kept to the bare minimum of safety”.

To do so requires that there be something other than just law holding a community together and easing the tension between our human need for community and our human individuality. That something is what we call culture. While a community’s formal rules are part of its culture it also includes much more, including informal rules, and a shared understanding of the community and the world which encourages the kind of attitude and behavior towards others which facilitates community life but which cannot reasonably be enforced by legislation. T. S. Eliot in his Notes Toward a Definition of Culture pointed out that culture and religion overlap to a large degree. Roger Scruton, in a work inspired by Eliot explained further that religion, by setting aside certain things as sacred, renders them inappropriate for the buy-and-sell world of the marketplace, thus ensuring that the most important elements of community life are not conducted on a commercial basis. (1)

This raises the question, which we will be looking at in this essay, of the effect of capitalism upon culture.

Before doing so we will need to consider the definition of the term “capitalism”. Capitalism is not an easy word to define, especially since those people who are in favour of capitalism and those people who are against capitalism do not appear to be referring to the same thing when they say “capitalism”. A further difficulty arises from the fact that the word capitalism does not have the same relationship with the word capitalist as the word socialism has with the word socialist. A socialist is someone who believes in the idea of socialism. A capitalist, however, is someone who uses capital which he owns in order to make a profit. This would suggest that capitalism is an economic activity – the use of capital (productive property) to produce goods to sell in order to obtain a profit. We usually think of capitalism as being the opposite of socialism, however, and socialism is not an economic activity but an economic system, which would suggest that capitalism is such a system as well.

Perhaps that is needlessly complicating the matter. It is possible for capitalism and socialism to be opposed to each other without belonging to the same general category. Socialism, at least as it was understood in the 19th Century, is the belief that private ownership of productive property generates social and economic inequality which produces the oppression of one class by another which in turn creates most of the evils people suffer in society, and that therefore such property should be collectively owned by the society. If capitalism is the economic activity of using privately owned productive property to produce goods to be sold for a profit then it is an activity which socialism clearly judges to be wrong. This is especially true if the capitalist hires other people to labour for him. This is judged to be oppression by the socialist because he regards the capitalist as having an unfair advantage over the laborer in the fact that he owns capital and the laborer does not. Conversely, the capitalist believes that the socialist is unfairly condemning him for things which are not morally wrong – owning property, using that property to produce goods which people want, selling those goods to others who wish to buy them in order to make a profit for himself, and providing jobs for others who need them in order to earn a living. (2)

Those who write in favour of capitalism, however, usually think of it as an economic system rather than an economic activity. The features of the system are the private ownership of property and the free market. The free market is not an actual market in the sense of a place where people go to buy and sell but a concept, an idea about how the process of buying and selling works. People exchange that which they have (sometimes only their labour) for that which they do not have but want or need more than that which they are giving up for it. The price (what amount of x that is exchanged for what amount of y) is determined by the impersonal forces of supply and demand. The more a good is in demand (the more people want it) the higher the price is, the larger the supply of the good (the more available it is) the lower the price. The adjective “free” modifies the concept to suggest the idea that the market works best and has the fairest outcome when people are free to make their own voluntary exchanges without interference from a regulating body. (3)

Historians might object to the free market economist’s definition of capitalism however. If, by a free market we mean a market that is completely unregulated then no such thing has ever existed. If we mean a market that is unregulated but not completely so then the question becomes how unregulated must it be in order to be considered a “free market”? Any answer to that question would be more or less arbitrary and so we are left with a definition of capitalism as an economic system that is either a) an abstract ideal that has never existed in real life or b) a definition that would apply to a number of economies before the Industrial Revolution and the historically recognized dawn of capitalism. A further historical problem with the free market economist’s definition of capitalism is that the transition to an industrial capitalist society was accomplished with a significant degree of positive government intervention and not by the adoption of the laissez faire proposals of economic liberals. (4)

What this tells us is that the liberal economist’s defense of the free market and private enterprise cannot be taken as a literal description of capitalism as a historical economic system. It must be regarded as being either an ex post facto justification of historical capitalism arrived after it had already developed or was in the process of developing (5) or a prescription for what capitalism would look like in its ideal form. This raises the question of what is the defining characteristic of historical capitalism.

Here we run into a very interesting problem. There is an obvious answer to the question of what distinguishes historical capitalism from all previous economies. That answer is the application of modern science in invention to the matter of the efficiency of production. This is what brought about the Industrial Revolution and the transformation of pre-Industrial economies which were predominantly rural and agrarian to industrial economies which were predominantly urban and based upon large-scale manufacturing. The problem lies in the fact that this answer cannot also be used to distinguish capitalism from socialism. Indeed, if this is taken to be the chief distinguishing characteristic of capitalism, which from a historical point of view it seems to be, then socialism would appear to be a form of capitalism. That assessment is not one which is likely to please either free market economists or socialists.

It is industrialism, the result of technology produced by the application of modern science to production, that distinguishes capitalism from previous economies, but this does not distinguish capitalism from socialism which is widely regarded as capitalism’s only significant competitor in the modern economy. Capitalism and socialism can only be distinguished by economic theory. In the economic theory of capitalism productive property is privately owned and the market is considered the most efficient and most fair means of distributing goods. In the economic theory of socialism productive property is collectively owned and the state distributes goods based upon need as assessed by the state.

The relationship between historical capitalism and the liberal economist’s theory of the free market can now be explained however. One result of the application of modern science to production was that it now became possible to produce manufactured goods on a much larger scale than before. In a modern, industrialized factory, goods could be produced in larger numbers in shorter periods of time than ever before. As a consequence, the market became more important than ever before. The whole point of a market is to sell that which you have produced in excess of your own needs to others who wish to purchase it in order to obtain other things that you do not make yourself but which you wish for or need. In an economy where people make most of the things they need for their own use themselves the market performs this vital function but people are not absolutely dependent upon it. When large factories began producing on a massive scale, however, all of a sudden the entire economy of a modern, industrialized, country became dependent upon the market. This is where the liberal economists entered the picture and offered a theoretical defense of the market which had already taken on new importance due to technological development.

Our definition of capitalism then, is that it is a modern economy brought into existence by the application of modern science to the development of productivity-enhancing technology and efficient assembly-line processes, in which productive property is privately owned and the market, as the means of distributing mass-produced goods is of central importance to the economy.

Now that we have a working definition of capitalism we can return to the main question of the impact of capitalism upon the culture of societies which have adopted it. Culture, remember, which grows out of a society’s religion, serves as a social adhesive, holding a community together, inspiring the kind of attitudes and behavior necessary for community living which laws alone cannot produce, and helping relieve the tension between human individuality and the human need for community. Has capitalism strengthened culture and helped it to perform this function or has it weakened it?

A case can be made that capitalism, in its early stages, strengthened culture. Although the economic case for the free market was made primarily by liberals who were at their best broad church latitudinarians and at their worst outright religious skeptics, (6) early capitalism was closely identified with the Protestant faith, particularly Calvinism, and especially the English version of Calvinism that is known as Puritanism. (7) Capitalism, at this stage in its development was supported by a Protestant ethic which stressed the importance of hard work, thrift and saving, and sacrifice. These are important things for a culture to stress because they help ward off the free rider problem which causes people to lose faith in the collective project of community and society. (8)

These ties between capitalism and the Protestant ethic no longer exist. If anything, capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries has come to support the exact opposite of these values. Contemporary capitalism encourages people to spend their money in order to support the market. This discourages thrift and saving. Yet hard work, thrift and saving are practices that cultures have encouraged and which parents have tried to teach their children for millennia. The Proverbs of Solomon in the Hebrew Scriptures and the fables of 7th Century BC Greek storyteller Aesop both preached their importance (9) The Protestant work ethic of early capitalism was in line with thousands of years worth of accumulated human wisdom. The contemporary capitalist ethic of “shop till you drop” is not. After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center ten years ago, then US President George W. Bush in an address to the American nation said “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy”. (10) While Mr. Bush went on to identify the values of the older capitalism as the source of American prosperity his words were widely interpreted by the news media and their viewing/reading audience as meaning “go shopping”. (11)

Why was this interpretation of “continued participation and confidence in the American economy” as “go shopping” so widely accepted? It was because an equation between “support the economy” and “go shopping” had already been made in the popular culture. It is a very easy equation to make because “go shopping” is the ubiquitous message of the popular media and a lesson people now learn from their earliest childhood. The electronic media have become the primary vessels of the transmission of culture for the majority of people and while television programs are still occasionally produced which convey old fashioned values in their message, the louder message is that of the advertisements which pay for the programs, and whose message is “buy our product”.

In all of this we see that a change has taken place within capitalism itself that coincides with a change in the culture of societies which are economically capitalist. As part of that change, values which culture has traditionally promoted and which were important to the early stages of capitalism have been abandoned as the culture has begun to promote behavior which traditionally culture sought to discourage. Why did this transformation take place and was it inevitable that capitalism would develop in this direction?

The change that has occurred in capitalism is basically this – consumption has become more important than production and the market has ceased to be a means to the end of human material prosperity and has become the end to which human productivity has become the means.

The seeds of this transformation were present in capitalism from the beginning. From “the market is the most efficient and fair way to distribute goods” it is a simple step to “the market is the source of prosperity” and yet another short step to “we must keep shopping in order to keep the market going because our economy will crumble if we don’t”. Yet these steps could never have been taken apart from the weakening and collapse of the cultural roadblocks which stood in their way.

Those roadblocks were essentially religious.

At Mt. Sinai, the commandments which the LORD handed down to Moses, began with:

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (Ex. 20:2-6)

We have a term for the sin of breaking these commandments. That term is “idolatry”. Theologically, idolatry can be defined as putting something which is not God in the place of God. It is idolatry, even if that which is put in God’s place, is itself a good. In philosophical ethics, roughly the same thing occurs when a means is treated as an end, or a penultimate good is treated as an ultimate good. This is exactly what occurs when the market is regarded as the source of human prosperity. It has taken the place of God as the ultimate source of good for mankind. When man turns a lesser good into an idol, that idol becomes his master and he becomes its slave.

The Christian faith, which inherited the Hebrew Scriptures and the prohibition against idolatry, stood in the way of the market being put in the place of God as the ultimate source of human good, so as long as capitalists were Calvinists, this could not take place. When the Christian faith of the Calvinist eroded, this roadblock was gone. The market was elevated to the level of the highest good and became an idol. When this happened the relationship between man and the market was inverted. The market, as a means to the end which is the material well-being of mankind, is a good thing. As such it is man’s servant not his master. When the market is treated as the source of human happiness it become’s man’s master and man becomes its slave. When this happens you find people making decisions and doing things that they would not otherwise make or do because it is “good for the market”.

Idolatry is an error in the setting of priorities. That which is secondary is treated as if it were of first importance. This leads to other similar errors. Man’s material needs are treated as being of greater importance than his moral and spiritual needs. Consumption is treated as being more important than production. The same Christian faith which warned against idolatry, including making an idol out of the market, warned against these errors as well. “What doeth it profit a man”, the Lord Jesus Christ once asked, “if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” To consume without producing, Christianity and common sense have long warned, is the path to poverty.

Capitalism, in other words, was on the road to contemporary consumerism the moment Christian faith began to wane in capitalist countries. Did capitalism itself contribute to that waning?

In a way this is like the question about whether the chicken came before the egg or vice versa. Capitalism is both the product of and a contributing factor in the ongoing process of change that has transformed the Western world from Christendom into a number of secular states and societies. Modernization is one way of describing this process. Those who regard it as being an unmixed blessing often refer to it as “progress”. This term suggests that the changes in the modernization process are improvements and that they are leading mankind away from the evils of the past towards a glorious future. While the modernization process, including the early stages of the development of modern science, began with Christian scholars in the late middle ages (12) it was deists, religious skeptics, and people who were hostile to the Christian faith who began to think of modernization in terms of progress.

It is ironic then that the concept of progress can be regarded as a form of “Christian” heresy. A heresy is what you end up with when you take one element of the orthodox doctrine of a religion and make it all-important by removing it from the context of orthodox doctrine as a whole to the point where other doctrines are denied. As Canadian conservative philosopher George Grant explained in the series of CBC lectures later edited into the book Philosophy in the Mass Age Christianity inherited from Judaism a belief that there is meaning in the order of events which occur because such events are ordered by God towards His ultimate ends. Our Western understanding of history is based upon this belief and when it is removed from the theistic context of Christianity it becomes the idea of “progress” in which man takes God’s place as the mind directing historical events. (13)

This understanding of progress is fundamental to the critique of progress, technology and capitalism that recurs throughout Grant’s writings. In the opening essay of his final book Technology and Justice he breaks down the English word “technology” into its roots and argues that this word better captures the essence of that which it denotes than its counterparts in other European languages, because technology is a synthesis of art and science, of making/doing and knowledge. The purpose of this synthesis is human domination over ourselves, nature, and the world. This, of course, is the domination which he saw as lying at the heart of the concept of progress. (14)

It is this same technology, as we earlier saw, which brought into existence the industrial economy of capitalism. If Grant is correct then, the capitalism which was in its earliest stages driven by the Protestant ethic, was part of a process that would eventually undermine that very influence of Protestant Christianity upon the culture of capitalist nations, which in turn led to the transformation of capitalism into the consumerist corporate empire it is today. Grant himself went even further than that in identifying the seeds of late capitalism in the capitalism of the earlier era:

Early capitalism was full of moral restraints. The Protestant ethic inhibited any passion that did not encourage acquisition. The greed of each would lead to the greater good of all. But in the age of high technology, the new capitalism can allow all passions to flourish along with greed. (15)

The idea here is that of a two-stage liberation of the passions, which pre-modern ethics had shackled. (16) In the first stage greed was unleashed, while other passions – the context suggests the sexual passions are what Grant has chiefly in mind - remained inhibited. In the second stage the remaining passions are emancipated.

While there are some problems with this (17), overall the description of the modern age of progress as a gradual unshackling of the passions from the restraints pre-modern Western civilization placed upon them seems quite accurate. Contemporary capitalism and the culture that corresponds with it has been telling people to indulge themselves and their passions for decades. The advertisement industry, that part of consumerist capitalism whose job is to convince people to buy products, is constantly preaching this message to people, and since advertisement pays the bills for the producers of popular culture in the age of the mass media, that culture has come to preach that message as well. A culture that tells people to indulge their passions and throw off traditional restraints, however, is a culture which does not serve the function for which culture exists very well.

Culture, remember, exists to unite a community or a society, alleviating the tension between the social nature of man and his individuality, in a way which the law, also required for this purpose, cannot. Culture does this, Roger Scruton tells us, by “dedicating them [the present members of a society] to the past and future of the community”. (18) In other words, it provides the present members of the community with the long view that enables and encourages them to sacrifice part of their present, short term good, for the long term good of the community as a whole.

Culture then is supposed to present us with a view of our community, as a whole larger then ourselves. (19) Culture cannot do this when it is too heavily influenced by modern liberalism. Modern liberalism is the belief that the individual comes first and that society is a voluntary contract between individuals made with the end of securing the good of individuals. The free market economist’s defence of capitalism is the economic expression of modern liberalism (20).

Modern liberalism, in its political and economic manifestations, wishes to see all human interaction conducted on a contractual basis. It was against this that 19th Century social critic Thomas Carlyle wrote “We have profoundly forgotten everywhere that cash-payment is not the sole relation of human beings”. (21) Nor, it should be added, is it the most important. The most important relationships between human beings are not those which are appropriate for the market place but those which exist within the family. The relationship between a husband and his wife, and between parents and their children, are of far greater importance than the relationship between a seller and a buyer. These relationships would not be improved by being made to resemble a business relationship. Indeed, a huge part of the present crisis of marriage is that the state has done all in its power to reduce marriage to the level of a business partnership.

What the state has removed from marriage is what liberalism would have removed from all human relations – the sense of the sacred. The words we use to express the concept of the sacred are words which originally conveyed the meaning of “set apart”. Something that is sacred, that is holy, is something that is “set aside” or “reserved”. To grasp the concept of the sacred we need to ask two questions: “set apart for what?” and “set apart from what?” The answer to the first is fairly obvious. Within a religious tradition that which is sacred is set apart for that which is considered divine in that religious tradition, the gods, or in Christianity, God. The second question requires a bit more thought but what the answer ultimately boils down to is “the common”, “the ordinary”, “the everyday”, “the mundane”. Something which is sacred is something which is removed from the realm of the ordinary and elevated by being consecrated for the use of the divine.

When something is raised to the level of the sacred it is removed from the market, for something which is dedicated to God is priceless in the most literal sense of the term. To attach a price to it, to make it into an object of commerce, is to commit an act of desecration. Remember that Jesus when He found the money changers in the courtyard of the Temple, overturned their tables and drove them out saying “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matt. 21:13). Whereas modern liberalism demands a separation between church and state, which makes religion into something it is not supposed to be, i.e., a private, personal matter and prevents it from being that which it is supposed to be, i.e., the coming together to worship which lies at the heart of the culture which binds a community, past, present and future, together, it was something more like a separation between commerce and religion which Jesus demanded.

Does this mean that the market is a bad thing?

No, it is a good thing when it is kept in its proper place and put to its proper use. When it is put in religion’s place in the heart of a community, however, it cheapens everything by reducing it to a commodity. Roger Scruton wrote:

But something new seems to be at work in the contemporary world—a process that is eating away the very heart of social life, not merely by putting salesmanship in place of moral virtue, but by putting everything—virtue included—on sale. (22)

This spells death for the life of a community. In a market transaction, both participants exchange something they value less for something they value more. This amounts, paradoxically, to a gain for both parties. This is the “subjective theory of value” which is one of the central insights of Carl Menger (23) and the Austrian School of Economics. This, combined with Ludwig von Mises’ argument about the non-existence of a means whereby a central planning body could calculate the economic needs of everybody within a society, is the reason why the market is the best possible way of handling economic matters.

It works, however, because each person in a market transaction is looking out, first and last, for his own self-interest. This works well in economic transactions but it would be very problematic if every interaction in society were conducted on this basis. If every social interaction consisted of two individuals looking out for their self-interest first and trying to come to an agreement then the only way in which we would ever see others is as means to our own ends. This amounts to the complete objectification (24) of every person, by every person, and is the very antithesis of a healthy community.

Religion, traditionally, consecrates the most important events and relationships in our lives. Weddings are traditionally conducted by clergymen, who pronounce God’s blessing on the union of man and woman, establishing the marriage as a covenant rather than a contract. In most of the traditional branches of the Christian faith a newborn child is baptized shortly after birth upon which occasion the child officially receives his Christian name and when a man is expected to die God’s blessing is pronounced over him in the last rites. The beginning and end of life is thereby consecrated and after a man dies the ceremony in which his loved ones say good bye, the funeral, is an inherently religious rite as well.

All of this serves an important social function. By consecrating the most important events and relationships in our lives as sacred, religion reminds us that life is about more than just the obtaining of material things. This reminds us that life itself is sacred. As technological development and mass production have magnified the role of the market place in Western societies, they have brought us tremendous material blessings, but those blessings have not come without a cost. By taking over the role of the Christian religion at the centre of Western cultures, the market has robbed us to a great degree of our sense of the sacred. It has also robbed us to a large degree of a sense of vocation (25) and of public spirit (26) among our leaders. These are all things which it is difficult to regain once lost.

The time is now long past when we should have asked ourselves whether the price of “progress” was worth it.

(1)Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture (South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998, 2000) This book is a defense of high culture, in the tradition of Wilhelm von Humboldt, Matthew Arnold and T. S. Eliot, which argues that the function of modern Western high culture is to fill the gap left by the collapse of Christian belief in Western societies. The argument is a sociological/anthropological explanation of the purpose of religion. While Scruton argues that such a view of religion can only be taken from the outside by those who have distanced themselves from the faith I see no reason why someone like myself who believes that the evidence overwhelmingly points to Jesus of Nazareth having risen from the dead as a historical fact, thus demonstrating the truth of His claim to be the Son of God, cannot also accept a reasonable explanation of the social function of religion.

(2) Socialism’s moral assessment of capitalism and capitalists and capitalism’s moral assessment of socialism are not the subject of this essay and so I will deal with them briefly here. Each side, in its judgement of the other, exaggerates the importance of a particular economic group (productive property owners for capitalism, wage-labourers for socialism) for the good of the other group and of the society as a whole, and downplays the extent to which the well-being of its own group depends upon the good of the whole community. The exaggeration is far greater on the part of the socialist than the capitalist. No efficient system of producing goods on a scale large enough to raise the standard of living of most members of a community significantly above subsistence level ever has been produced by manual labour alone, nor would it be possible to do so. The possibility exists, at least in theory, for a capitalist to do away with his labour force by completely automatizing his property. The capitalist is far more important for the well-being of the wage labourer than the other way around (this is the one essential truth that can be pulled from the mountains of error which exist in the writings of Ayn Rand). Conversely, the capitalist is far more likely to downplay the extent to which community, an orderly society, and just laws contribute to the creation of private wealth. Ultimately, however, the capitalist’s moral assessment of socialism is more accurate than the socialist’s moral assessment of capitalism.

(3) From an economic point of view I have no objection to the free market argument. Socialism, which presents itself as the alternative to capitalism, is based upon the idea that a governing body can plan the economy of an entire society in such a way as to produce a better outcome for all of the society’s members than if each member makes his own economic decisions for himself and has control over whatever property he may privately own. I have never understood how anybody could be stupid enough to believe this.

(4) See Robert Nisbet’s The Quest For Community (London: Oxford University Press, 1953, 1962), pp 104-105.

(5) Marxists, for example, explain the relationship this way.

(6) See, however, Murray N. Rothbard Economic Thought Before Adam Smith: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought Vol. 1 (Aldershot and Brookfield: Edward Elgar Publishing, 1995) for the alternative view that free market arguments were anticipated by, among others, neo-Aristotelian Roman Catholic scholastics in the late middle ages.

(7) See, for example Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Scribner, 1958). It should be noted that Weber’s explanation of the relationship between the Protestant work and the doctrine of predestination seems accurate enough as a description of Puritan theology, but some insist that that theology, through the influence of Theodore Beza, William Perkins and others, has diverged from John Calvin’s own teachings on just this point. See R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1654 (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1979), and M. Charles Bell Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: The Handsel Press, 1985). Nevertheless, the connection between Calvinism and early capitalism seems undeniable. Capitalism developed first where Calvinist influence was the strongest (the Netherlands on continental Europe, the English-speaking world, and especially the strongly Puritan influenced United States of America).

(8) Marxists, of course, and other socialists would argue that the capitalist class – i.e., the class of people that derives its income from its ownership of property is a free rider class that profits from the efforts of others, i.e., those it employs to work on or in its property. This argument is based upon a misconception of the relationship between property owners and labourers. It has more weight, however, when it comes not from those who believe in some nonsensical vision of a propertyless egalitarian society, but those who preach the importance of small property owners who work their own property (deceased British economist E. F. Schumacher for example, Kirkpatrick Sale or Wendell Berry of Kentucky).

(9) Think of Proverbs 6:6-9 and Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper.



(12) Richard M. Weaver, in Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948) identified the nominalism of William of Ockham in the 13th Century as the beginning of the decay of Christian civilization. Nominalism was a rejection of the reality of universals, which in one form or another had been the focus of Western philosophy since Plato and Aristotle. This is relevant because the Athenian school, by refocusing philosophy on universals (justice, truth, etc.) laid the foundations for Western civilization, whereas nominalism led to a reversion to the questions which were important to pre-Socratic philosophers (questions about the nature and composition of the world). Note however, that the Athenian philosophers did not reject such matters entirely. Aristotle in particular devoted much study to the natural sciences which is why the Scholastic revival of Aristotelianism was also an important factor in the development of modern science. Science is built upon a foundation of presuppositions which assume a theistic worldview like that of Christianity – science is the observation of the world, the development of theories which explain and predict on the basis of those observations, and the testing of theories through experimentation, all of which presupposes that there is order which can be found in the world through observation, which presupposes, although many scientists deny it, that Someone put that order there.

(13) George P. Grant, Philosophy in the Mass Age (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995). The original edition was published by Copp Clark Publishing in 1959. It consists of eight essays which were revised from a series of lectures on philosophy Grant had given on CBC radio in 1958. The fourth essay, “History as Progress” is the relevant essay, in which Grant writes “Nevertheless, in its moral connotation there is nothing more important to its understanding than to recognize how the Christian idea of history as the divinely ordained process of salvation, culminating in the Kingdom of God, passes over into the idea of history as progress, culminating in the Kingdom of Man: how Christianity’s orienting of time to a future made by the will of God becomes the futuristic spirit of progress in which events are shaped by the will of man.” (p. 44).

(14) George P. Grant, Technology and Justice (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1986). The first essay is entitled “Thinking about Technology”.

(15) George P. Grant, Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1989), p. 59. The original edition of this book was published in 1965. The occasion for Grant’s famous jeremiad was the defeat of the Diefenbaker Conservatives in 1963, when the Liberals and NDP brought down the government following an orchestrated media campaign against Diefenbaker after he refused to allow American nuclear warheads on Canadian soil. Grant regarded this as the last step in the transformation of Canada into a satellite of the American empire. As a part of Western civilization, Grant argued, North American societies have no roots older than the age of progress, but whereas the United States was built upon the concept of progress, Canada was a conservative project made possible by the fact that English Canada retained its ties to Great Britain which still had pre-modern roots.

(16) Grant, like Weaver, was a Christian Platonist. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates argued that the human soul was divided into three parts, reason, will, and the appetites, and that in the properly ordered soul, the soul of the philosopher, reason governed the appetites through the will, and that this same tripartite division would be reflected in the class structure of the just polis. The rule of the philosopher kings representing reason, would be enforced by the guardian warriors representing the will, over the mechanical workers representing the appetites or passions. The same idea that ethical behavior requires the use of the will to suppress our desires when they would pull us away from what reason tells us is the right thing to do, recurs in a slightly different form in the Ethics of Aristotle. Grant’s comments about the removal of moral inhibitions on the passions reflects a Christian version of this.

(17) Grant seems to make no distinction, for example, between the desire to acquire material wealth and “greed”. However, if we consider the passions which were inhibited in the earlier Protestant ethic but which have subsequently been unshackled, such a distinction is necessary. Grant’s next sentence after the one quoted makes reference to Playboy, for example, indicating that sexual desire was what he had in mind when he wrote “any passion that did not encourage acquisition”. The Protestant ethic however, did not completely equate sexual desire with the vice of “lust”. Such an equation would have been expressed in a rule against any and all sexual expression, including that which occurs within wedlock. Only extreme sects like the Shakers ever dreamed up such a rule, however. The mainstream Christian ethic, both Catholic and Protestant, was that sexual desire was only to be physically expressed within the confines of marriage. The passion of sexual desire was not intrinsically bad, but when ungoverned, led to behavior which was either harmful in itself or could have harmful consequences (premarital intercourse was irresponsible because it could lead to children being born outside of the security of wedlock, adultery was intrinsically harmful because it was a betrayal of one’s spouse and could also lead to cuckoldry, etc.) Hence, in the Christian ethic, the vice of lust is not sexual desire per se, but sexual desire which is emancipated from these ethical restraints. Similarly, greed must not be identified with the generic human desire to acquire material wealth. Like sexual desire, the desire for material acquisition is necessary to human survival, and must therefore be identified as a good. It is when it is not balanced with other goods and made subject to the highest good that it becomes a vice. The vice of greed is not easy to define. Some have defined it as “the desire to acquire more than what one needs”. This begs the question of “what do we mean by need?” If by “need” we mean the bare minimum required to maintain our existence, then this definition of greed would translate into the moral requirement that all human beings live at the level of mere subsistence. Only an insane person would think this way. Another definition of greed is “the desire to acquire more than one’s fair share of material goods”. This is better than the first definition but we again run into the problem that “one’s fair share” is a hard concept to pin down, except in cooperative ventures. The best definition of greed is that it the vice of taking one’s desire for material gain so far that one is willing to compromise the good of other people for it.

(18) Scruton, op.cit., p. 9, italics in original.

(19) This serves the good of the community but it also serves our good as individual persons by providing us with a context within which to understand ourselves. That this answers to a need in our human nature seems evident from the search for self-identity which seems to be everywhere present since culture has ceased to provide it.

(20) This can be confusing to people in the English-speaking world, especially North America. This is because we tend to equate conservatism with capitalism and liberalism with socialism and to regard conservatism and liberalism (and capitalism and socialism) as opposites.

(21) The quotation comes from “The Gospel of Mammonism”, which is the second chapter of Book Three of Past and Present (1843). Elsewhere in the same work (“Working Aristocracy” which is chapter 9 of Book III) Carlyle expressed the same sentiment by writing “Cash-payment is not the sole nexus of man with man”. This brought the expression “cash nexus” as a reference to market interactions into the English language.

(22) Scruton, op. cit., p. 55.

(23) Carl Menger, Principles of Economics (New York: New York University Press, 1976) a translation of Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre first published in 1871.

(24) By objectification I mean the reduction of a person to the level of an object. Jewish philosopher Martin Buber in his I and Thou (New York: Scribner Classics, 2000, a translation of Ich und Du first published in 1923) pointed out the fundamental difference between the “I-Thou” way of relating to other people and God and the “I-It” way in which we use objects.

(25) Vocation, a word derived from the Latin verb meaning “to call”, refers to the sense that one’s work is an answer to a higher calling. While a sense of vocation can still be found among clergymen, artists and to a lesser degree statesmen (if anyone deserving of this label is still around) it has by and large been lost for most people. Careerism has replaced vocation for those whose work comes with a ladder of success for the ambitious to climb, whereas other jobs have become “occupations” – things done to pass the time and pay the bills. Without a sense of vocation, work is perceived as a necessary evil to be avoided if at all possible, rather than as something which is a good to be engaged in for its own sake as much as for the material remuneration one receives for it. See Weaver, op. cit., pp. 70-79.

(26) Peregrine Worsthorne, Democracy Needs Aristocracy (London: HarperPerennial, 2005), originally published in hardback as In Defence of Aristocracy in 2004. In this book Worsthorne argues for the values the British aristocracy represented (even if they did not always embody them very well) and for the general concept of a leadership class which takes to public service out of a sense of duty. While Worsthorne does find examples of aristocratic leadership in the most capitalist of countries the United States (chapter four) he argues that the capitalism of the new consensus between “New Labour” and “New Conservatism” has threatened the values he is championing. In chapter five, for example, he writes “For triumphant capitalism, unlike triumphant socialism after the war, had no need to make use of the gentlemanly public-service ethics. Quite the contrary. It has a vested interest in the destruction of that ethic, and the marginalization of the gentlemanly class that still adhered to it. Cutting off heads, in the French revolutionary fashion, was not necessary. A less brutal but no less effective method was to stuff their mouths with gold” (p. 199) Worsthorne goes on to decry the way the “spirit of free enterprise” has taken over the old Tory educational institutions so that “a great public school like Eton became just as proud of an old alumni who had built up a media empire from scratch as of one who had become a prime minister or an archbishop.” (pp. 200-201). Earlier, in the chapter in which he gave a brief history of the British aristocracy, Worsthorne explained this as the result of the Labour Party’s acceptance of the post-Thatcher consensus. “New Labour’s removal of the threat to property had thus altered the balance of power in British politics, allowing the bourgeois bulk of the Conservative Party, which only accepted the aristocratic tradition as a marriage of convenience, to show what, out of prudence, they had previously kept hidden: their anti-gentlemanly social chip on the shoulder”. (p. 105) Worsthorne writes “As a force for change, capitalism in Britain was always likely to be a more socially dissolvent force than socialism”. (p. 106). George Grant had made similar remarks in Lament for a Nation and Technology and Empire (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1969) in the last of which he wrote “These days when we are told in North America that capitalism is conservative, we should remember that capitalism was the great dissolvent of the traditional virtues”. (p. 67) There is a slight difference in the way these two conservative thinkers came to their similar positions however. Grant believed that the Marxists were wrong in seeing socialism as being more progressive than capitalism and argued that socialism was a positively conservative force. Worsthorne, on the other hand, wrote that “Indeed socialism, by frightening and therefore slowing down the capitalist horses, acted more as a brake than an accelerator”. In other words, it was not that socialism was intrinsically conservative in any way, but that it was a threat that prevented capitalism from going too far down the road of progress.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Reign of Christ the King

Rejoice you all, both small and great
Lift up your voice and sing
Because today we celebrate
The feast of Christ the King

Who rules o’er all the worlds He made
And men both quick and dead
And in the Church for which He paid
Of which He is the head

No ruler ever was so just
Or merciful and true
As He who washed His servants feet
And bore their burdens too

“Thy kingdom come” He taught us pray
And so it surely will
And has already in the hearts
Of those who love Him still

So as we end the Christian year
Lets turn to Him again
And give up all our sin and pride
To let Him in us reign.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An Historical Question

History is an important subject of study and discussion. George Santayana once remarked that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, although if we believe those like Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee who say that they have found a cyclical pattern in history this might be inevitable in any circumstance. Regardless, in the people and events of the past, there are lessons both positive and negative for us to learn. Whether or not we learn those lessons will have consequences for our lives in the present and for those of future generations as well.

An orthodoxy is necessary to the consideration of history. By orthodoxy I mean a general consensus as to the established facts of history. Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States in 1968. Ed Broadbent was not elected Prime Minister of Canada in 1988. These are basic, established, facts of history. If we reject the concept of an orthodoxy altogether, and treat all historical facts as being up for debate, we will never learn anything from history.

On the other hand, historical orthodoxy must not be so inflexible as to reject legitimate challenges. Governments, in peace and war, present their acts in the most positive light possible to the people they govern. It would be greatly detrimental to the good of our societies and civilization if we blindly accepted every government’s version of its own actions as part of orthodox history.

What is needed, therefore, is both a settled account of the people and events of the past, and an ongoing re-examination of this account which questions it where it may be in error and corrects it if it finds it so to be.

In the rest of this essay we are going to consider a question regarding 20th Century history and what the academic, media, and political establishments all appear to regard as the orthodox answer to the question. I will argue that the orthodox answer is misleading and that this has important ramifications for us in the present day.

Before doing so some terms need to be defined. What is meant by “left” and “right”?

These terms entered political discourse in the era of the French Revolution. They were rather literal terms at the time. The supporters of the Bourbon dynasty, the landed aristocracy, and the Roman Catholic Church sat on the “right” of the speaker in the French assembly, whereas the supporters of the revolution that sought to abolish all three of these and establish a secular, bourgeois, republic of equal citizens sat on the left. By extension, “right” came to refer to all traditionalists, who supported concepts, values, and institutions which dated back prior to the “Enlightenment”, to the era of Christendom and even the Classical Age. Conversely the “left” came to refer to progressives, who believed that man through reason and science could abandon tradition and the past entirely, and establish a golden age for himself in the future. As the 19th Century progressed the term “left-wing” also came to include the economic concept of socialism which the “right-wing” opposed.

“Left” and “right” are related to another set of terms which entered political discussion in the 19th Century. These terms are “conservative” and “liberal”. “Conservative” and “right” or “right wing” were more or less synonymous, although “conservative” could arguably be described as referring to a distinctly English version of “right-wing”. It was coined to refer to the reorganized Tory Party, the party which stood for the established constitution of England, her monarchy, and her Church, after that party had accepted certain ideas from its traditional opponents the Whigs.

“Liberal” on the other hand does not correspond so well to “left” or “left wing”. It has a number of different meanings. In ethical philosophy it is the term for the classical virtue of generosity. In its most basic political sense it refers to the idea that government should not abuse the people it governs but should respect their liberties and basic rights. In this sense of the term almost everybody is a liberal, including conservatives. (1) This basic concept, however, has been developed into more complete political theories which are also called liberalisms, each of which to one degree or another conflicts with conservatism, and, I as a conservative would argue, with reality.

There is classical liberalism, for example, This is what the term “liberalism” generally denoted in the 19th Century, and it is the theory that human beings are at the most fundamental level individuals, and that all social interaction between them should be mutually voluntary, based upon the model of a business contract. This is the theory of John Locke, J. S. Mill, Adam Smith and in the 20th Century Sir Karl Popper and Ludwig von Mises. This kind of liberalism is neither conservative (for conservatism asserts the priority of family and community over the individual) nor left-wing (because it rejects socialism and, indeed, is synonymous with capitalism).b

Then there is “progressive liberalism”. For most of the 20th Century, in North America the term “liberalism” when used without an adjective referred to this kind of liberalism. While “progressive liberalism” builds upon the same theoretical foundation as “classical liberalism” it embraces interventionism by the democratic state as the means of progress. To a large degree this kind of liberalism converged with the left in the 20th Century. It is anti-conservative and embraces socialism to a certain degree.

Let us now consider the question.

“Which was the greater evil in the 20th Century, Nazism or Communism?”

Most people, I would think, would say that this question is unanswerable. “Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea” Dr. Johnson remarked when asked about two minor poets and if it is pointless to discuss degrees of mediocrity it is offensive to many to discuss the degrees of evil between two repressive systems which both imprisoned and killed people by the millions and threatened the security and freedom of the entire world.

Note, however, that many who would respond to the question in this way do not express their true thoughts on the subject by doing so. This indignant rejection of the very question often comes from people who have already answered the question as a means of avoiding having their answer come under scrutiny.

The official orthodoxy on the matter is that a) it is wrong to ask the question because there is no answer and b) the answer is “Nazism”. This position is self-contradictory but to many people challenging it is about the greatest thought crime you could ever commit.

That such an orthodoxy exists is undeniable. Even at the height of the Cold War, self-acknowledged Marxists and even Stalinists could be found among the faculty of major universities across Europe and North America. The student bodies of these universities contain countless radicals who wear t-shirts with Communist slogans or the face of Communist revolutionary Che Gueverra. Could you imagine a similar tolerance being extended to faculty members who identify with the ideas in Mein Kampf or students who dress up as brownshirts? A few years ago here in Winnipeg a couple had their children taken away from them by the child protection bureaucracy because a teacher had called in and complained that the family’s daughter had come to school with a swastika drawn on her arm. Would that teacher have called if the swastika had been a hammer and sickle? (2)

Further evidence of the existence of this orthodoxy can be found in the predictable gut reaction of many to my last paragraph. “Why are you asking these questions? Are you a Nazi sympathizer?” I could turn around and ask “Why are you so upset about these questions? Are you a Communist sympathizer?” If I were to do so, however, I would immediately be accused of “McCarthyism”.(3)

Do you recognize the significance of that fact? It would be far more fair to accuse those who uphold the reigning orthodoxy of sympathy for Communism than to accuse those of us who point out its flaws of sympathy towards the Third Reich. However, there is a word in the English language for someone who accuses another person of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer and that word carries more opprobrium than the label “Communist” itself. We have no equivalent word for a person who accuses another person of being a Nazi.

All of this is of greater practical importance than it may seem at first glance. A number of organizations exist to warn the public of a supposed ongoing Nazi threat and their publications are taken very seriously by the political left and its academic and media counterparts. People on the right who warned about the threat of Communism were dismissed as kooks, extremists, and McCarthyites even when the Soviet Union was still in power.

Which of these two great evil movements of the 20th Century was the most persistent threat, however?

Sir Winston Churchill was deservedly credited with prescience with regards to the threat posed by Hitler’s Reich. He also warned about the dangers of Bolshevism, however, and he did so long before the Austrian demagogue rose to power in Germany. He continued to warn about the threat of Communism after the threat of Nazism had been done away with. Bolshevism seized control of Russia in 1917, 16 years before Hitler came to power in Germany. Nazism ended in 1945, and the war that brought it down left Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Eastern Germany under Communist control. Three years later the Chinese Communists under Mao seized control of their country. Then North Korea, Cuba, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and many other countries fell to the rule of Communism. Domestically, in Western countries, Communists and their sympathizers outnumber by far the handful of people who still admire Adolf Hitler and his regime, and have long done so.

Despite all of this people who warned about the “Red Menace” were dismissed as witch hunters and extremists while draconian “hate speech” laws were passed to counter the supposed threat of resurgent Nazism.

What is the explanation of this? Is it simply a matter of “pas d'ennemi à gauche” (4) on the part of Leftists in control of the official orthodoxy?

Yes and no. While “no enemies to the left” plays a significant part in generating this orthodoxy it is not a simple matter of a leftist establishment regarding “right-wing extremists” (Nazis) as worse than “left-wing extremists” (Communists). The idea that Nazism represents an extreme on the right and Communism an extreme on the left is itself part of the orthodoxy which does not correspond with reality. Nazism was not a right-wing movement. It was in fact a left-wing movement.

This is not to deny that there were right-wing elements in Nazism. George Grant said that “One definition of national socialism is a strange union of the atheisms of ‘the right’ and of ‘the left’”. (5) By “atheism of the right” he meant the philosophy of Nietzsche, but while there is truth in this description, the only significant, recognizably right-wing element of Nazism was its anti-Bolshevism. Otherwise, Nazism was clearly a left-wing movement.

The official title of the Nazi party was the National Socialist German Workers Party, a left-wing name if ever there was one. That doesn’t mean much, but the Nazi Party rose to power by appealing to the groups which left-wing movements have traditionally sought out for their support base – the young and the working class. It was distrusted by the most conservative class in Germany – the Catholic aristocracy – from the beginning. The unsuccessful movement to remove Hitler from power during World War II drew its members from this class. (6) The Nazis had no time for the things the traditional right-wing existed to support – royalty, aristocracy, and the Christian Church. Their eugenics program and racial doctrines were both based upon Darwinism.(7) While there was a long-standing and regrettable tradition of mutual suspicion on the part of Christians and Jews in Europe this was not the basis of the anti-semitism of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Their anti-Semitism was based upon the idea that Jews and Aryans were biological enemies in a Darwinian struggle for survival. (8) Even the manner in which the Nazi regime carried out its mass-murder program was clearly based upon the principles of utopianism and progressive industrial factory-line efficiency which is one of its most chilling aspects.

Nazism was primarily a blend of nationalism and socialism, both of which elements were left-wing. Hitler’s socialism may not have resembled most other socialisms (except that practiced in the Soviet Union at the time) but his nationalism was clearly the left-wing nationalism which was born, alongside modern democracy and totalitarianism, in the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau in the 18th Century. In this nationalism, the general will of the people (the nation, the volk) is sovereign and the absolute loyalty it demands of each citizen must supercede all other loyalties, such as those to family, home, church, and neighborhood. It was against this notion that Edmund Burke wrote that true love for one’s country, and indeed for the world, must grow outward from the love for one’s “little platoon” that arises naturally. In Hitler’s demand that children spy on their parents, and neighbor on his neighbor, for the Reich, it is Rousseau’s nationalism and not Burke’s patriotism that was taken to its ultimate extreme.

That both of the repressive, totalitarian movements of the 20th Century were manifestations of the left, of the spirit of progress and modernity, was understood by British satirist and novelist Evelyn Waugh, who in the first volume of his Sword of Honour trilogy describes his protagonist, Guy Crouchback, as eagerly returning to England to sign up for World War II after the pact between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, because he felt that in a conflict against the alliance of those two evils, “the modern age in arms”, there was a place for him. (9)

It is unlikely that history books and academic classes will be identifying Nazism as a left-wing movement any time soon, however. It is to the advantage of the left that Communism and Nazism are regarded as the extremes of the left and right, not only because it makes the left look better if one of the great evil movements of the 20th Century was on the other side, but because it drives people towards the centre ground of liberalism. This is beneficial to the left because this central territory was completely colonized by them in the 20th Century.

(1) As George Grant put it “Liberalism in its generic form is surely something that all decent men accept as good—‘conservatives’ included. In so far as the word ‘liberalism’ is used to describe the belief that political liberty is a central human good, it is difficult for me to consider as sane those who would deny that they are liberals.” English Speaking Justice (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1974, 1985) p. 4.

(2) I had not yet started Throne, Altar, Liberty when this happened but was writing essays which I posted to my Facebook page and privately e-mailed to my friends. In an essay entitled “First They Came for the White Supremacists…” (May 27, 2009) I pointed out that it was ironical that the government was “using people’s fears of Nazism as the basis for their experiments in thought control.” Why was it ironical? “What was it about Hitler’s regime that made it so terrible? I always thought that it was the fact that the Third Reich was a tyrannical regime with secret police and a fanatical leader-worship cult that encouraged people to turn in their parents, neighbors, and friends if they were suspected of disloyalty to the state, in which freedom was non-existent and the state was in the hands of a gang of petty thugs who ruled by fear.” I then pointed out that “Yet you can be an avowed Marxist and remain respectable in academic circles. You can hang up the flags of murderous Communist regimes, wear T-shirts glorifying Communist mass-murderer ‘Che’ Guevera, and praise Castro and Mao to high heaven, and nobody will say anything about it.” A month later I took part in a small and brief protest against the actions of Child and Family Services. Lindor Reynolds, a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press interviewed us, and I explained that I believed CFS had overstepped the boundaries of their mandate from Her Majesty’s government in removing children from a home on the basis of the political views of the parents. Reynolds did not think it important to ask us whether or not we agreed with the political views of the parents in question or with the ideology the swastika represented before imputing such agreement to us in her write up. I wonder if it would have occurred to her to have asked if we had been protesting the removal of a child from a home on the basis of his having proudly worn his hippie father’s “Che” t-shirt to school? (And yes, I would consider that to be as much an abuse of state power as the other).

(3) The word “McCarthyism” is derived, of course, from the name of Joseph R. McCarthy, who was the Republican Senator from Wisconsin from 1947 until his death a decade later. McCarthy, in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1950, accused the US State department of being “infested with communists”, stating that he had a list of known Communist agents who were employed by the State department. The speech was widely reported in the press, McCarthy was summoned before a Senate subcommittee headed by Senator Millard Tydings which had been charged with investigating his allegations, and later McCarthy himself would investigate alleged Communist infiltration of various branches of the American government, including the US army. By the end of his life, the media had made his name synonymous with “witch hunting”. There has been evidence, however, right from the beginning, that McCarthy’s accusations were not as wide of the mark as the press maintained. In McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning, published by Henry Regnery of Chicago in 1954, William F. Buckley Jr. and L. Brent Bozell examined McCarthy’s earliest allegations, those heard by the Tydings Committee, in great depth and demonstrated that while not all of them could be shown to be Communists, there was evidence in the vast majority of cases that a security risk existed. Since the end of the Cold War, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the ensuing new access to Soviet archives, and the declassification of the files of the VENONA Project in 1995, new evidence has come to light that suggests that McCarthy’s accusations only touched the tip of the iceberg with regards to Soviet infiltration of the American government in that era. See Arthur Herman Joseph McCarthy : Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator (New York: Free Press, 2000) and M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted By History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies (New York: Crown Forum, 2007).

(4) “No enemies on the left”.

(5) Grant, op. cit., p. 103.

(6) Claus von Stauffenberg, for example.

(7) Since WWII, the left has tried to portray eugenics and “racism” as “right-wing” phenomena. This is grossly misleading. Eugenics, which developed out of the theories of Charles Darwin and his cousin Sir Francis Galton, was regarded initially as a progressive development in science. Eugenics programs received broad support from across the political spectrum. Left-wing intellectuals rallied behind it. Here in Canada, Tommy Douglas wrote his master’s thesis in support of eugenics in 1933, the same year Hitler came to power. In notoriously left-wing Sweden eugenics was practiced until the late 1970’s. While it received right-wing support as well, including that of Sir Winston Churchill, and the right-wing Social Credit government in Alberta had a sterlization program for decades (a fact about which Jane Harris Zsovan has recently thrown a book length hissy fit) the most notable principled opposition to eugenics in the pre-Hitler era came from socially conservative religious leaders. Theories of racial supremacy also arose out of the “Enlightenment” and its emphasis upon the natural sciences and were thus originally considered to be progressive.

(8) Dr. Jacob Neusner, an academic rabbi and a pioneer in the scholarly study of Judaism within the context of the mainstream American university, in an essay entitled “Sorting Out Jew-Haters” which appeared in the March 1995 issue of Chronicles Magazine, distinguished between the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany in which “Jews are a separate species within humanity, peculiarly wicked, responsible for the evil of the human condition” and other negative attitudes towards the Jews. He points out how only this specific anti-Semitism as an “encompassing worldview” could have had the horrific consequences it had in Nazi-occupied Europe. This is the opposite approach to that of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen whose books argue that the Holocaust was the natural product of the teachings of Christianity and the German mindset. Neusner is correct.

(9) As the trilogy unfolds, from Men in Arms through Officers and Gentleman to Unconditional Surrender, Crouchback increasingly becomes aware of the fact that his old-fashioned notions of chivalry and honour are being punished while people with less noble concepts are rewarded. The extent to which modern notions have pushed out traditional principles is made clear to him when the new alliance is forged between Britain and the Soviet Union.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When Duty Calls

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (1) - Horace, Odes, Book III, 2:13

Lucy Maud Montgomery is best remembered for her novel Anne of Green Gables which tells the story of a spirited and imaginative orphan girl adopted, by accident or providence, by an elderly brother and sister who raised her on their farm in Prince Edward Island. Anne of Green Gables was the first of a series of eight novels in which Montgomery continued to tell the story of Anne Shirley. The final book in the series (2) Rilla of Ingleside which was published in 1920 is set during the first World War.

The main story in Rilla of Ingleside concerns Rilla Blythe, Anne’s youngest daughter, who is forced by the war to mature into a responsible adult from the vain and frivolous person she seems to be at the beginning of the novel. In the background to this story there is an ongoing commentary on the events of the war by the characters of the novel. While some of the commentary, such as that of Dr. Gilbert Blythe and the Presbyterian minister James Meredith is more educated and informed than that of others, such as that of Blythe housekeeper Susan Baker, there is a general consensus in support of Britain and of Canada’s contributions to the war effort and against the Kaiser. The Blythe boys each feel the call to do their duty to “king, country, and empire” and are ultimately supported in this by their family, friends and neighbors. The only significant dissenting voice is of an unlikable character, Mr. Pryor, derogatorily nicknamed “Whiskers-on-the-moon”, an elder in the church who is an avowed pacifist. His only significant appearance in the story other than in the disapproving conversation of others is in the 20th chapter, where he is invited to pray at a joint prayer meeting of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in support of the war. His “prayer” ends up being a pacifist lecture when is abruptly ended when Norman Douglas, the fiery, opinionated, village infidel who is by far the most likeable character of the book, wrings his neck.

While this is a work of fiction, L. M. Montgomery generally sets her stories in what is recognizably the late 19th –early 20th Century Canada that she knew and experienced. The picture she draws of a community coming together to sacrifice for and support their country in war is a picture of the real Canada of almost one hundred years ago.

There is quite a contrast between that day and our own. Hawks and doves are still among us, and each group is still smugly certain of its own righteousness and of the wickedness of the other. It is the attitude of everybody else, the people who are neither pacifists nor members of war’s cheerleading squad, that is different. Pacifism is no longer held in contempt and barely tolerated. Our attitude towards war has completely changed.

Why is this?

It has to do, I believe, with changes in the way we think about war and the way we think about our relationship to our society. Let us consider these in turn.

For quite some time now it has been customary around the time of Remembrance Day to talk about the soldiers we are remembering and honouring as those who died “for our freedom”. This way of speaking has become so familiar to us that we may not immediately recognize what is wrong with it.

The soldiers we are honouring did not go to war to fight and die for “our freedom”. They went to war to fight and die for “their country”. The difference between these two phrases is of tremendous significance.

If we say that we are fighting a war for “our freedom” what do we mean by “our freedom”?

If the enemy we are fighting against is trying to conquer our territory and enslave our people then “our freedom” could mean “the freedom of our country”. If this is what we mean then fighting for “our freedom” is one way in which we fight for “our country”.

This is not the only possible meaning of this expression, however. When we speak of fighting for “our freedom” we could mean by “our freedom” the liberal concept of the rights and liberties of the individual. If that is what we mean then when we speak of our soldiers as having fought and died for “our freedom” we mean that we are honouring them for fighting and dying for a political ideal, an abstract concept, rather than for a real, concrete community.

If this is what we mean then we are completely out of touch with the nature of the call of duty our soldiers answered when they went to war and with the reason why it is important to honour and remember them.

Unfortunately, it seems to be this second sense that is intended by those who tell us to remember the soldiers who died for “our freedom”. This is because in the 20th Century the idea became widespread among teachers, media commentators and other opinion-formers that it is more noble to fight and die for ideals and higher values than for something as concrete and everyday as “my country”.

Now perhaps you are thinking that such a notion represents an advancement towards enlightenment in our thinking about war. Is it not better to fight for things like justice, freedom, and truth which are eternal, universal, values than to fight for your country?

The answer is no it is not.

Human nature has both a creative and a destructive side. It is man’s creative side, which is the source of art, music, and literature, that responds best to universal values of this kind. These values inspire creative man to reach new heights and this is what makes the difference between a culture and a civilization.

War, however, is a manifestation of man’s destructive side. This does not need inspiration. Rather it needs to be contained and directed so that its harmful energy does the least amount of damage and, if possible, serves the good of the community. For this reason it is better for people to fight for their families, their homes, their friends, their neighbors, their communities and their countries than to fight for things like justice and truth.

It is noble to die for an ideal only when you willingly allow yourself to submit to the injustice of being killed for that ideal. In that case you are a martyr. If you combine the willingness to die for an ideal with the intention of killing others for your ideal you are not a martyr but a fanatic.

Look at what happens when you start to think about war as being fought for universal values. You take what is a conflict between two human societies and you escalate it to the level of a cosmological battle between good and evil. When you think of war as being fought for the benefit of your country you still ask the old questions of just war theory. Do we have just cause to go to war? Are we fighting in a just manner? When you think that you are fighting for good against an enemy who is the embodiment of evil those questions become irrelevant. If you are “good” and your enemy is “evil” all that matters is that you utterly destroy your enemy.

This exponentially multiplies the destructive potential of war. Human beings instinctively recognize this and for this reason universal values and ideals are incapable of stirring the martial spirit the way the call to fight, for kith and kin, heart and hearth, queen and country can.

Lord Thomas Babbington Macauley, the 19th Century British poet, historian and statesman may have been a Whig, but he showed an understanding of what moves men to lay down their lives in battle in his retelling of Livy’s account of the story of Horatius Cocles in his Lays of Ancient Rome:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
the Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods

“The temples of his Gods”. It would be unthinkable that anyone today would write these words in the spirit in which Macauley intended them. It is almost universally accepted, in Western society today, that wars should not be fought for religion.

This is because Western countries have become increasingly secular. The state has become more powerful, a wall has been erected between it and the church, and religion, no longer seen as being primarily the corporate worship of a community, has been relegated to the sphere of the private individual. If religion has any value in the contemporary way of thinking it is as a means of making higher values real to the individual, thus providing him with spiritual inspiration.

If we think about religion in those terms then fighting for religion is no different than fighting for ideals. Is this the right way to think about religion however? Secularism has become so widespread that we have perhaps forgotten just how unnatural it is.

Religion, throughout history, and in our own societies until very recently, was not primarily a personal matter between the individual and God. It was a social institution which had a social function. Religion was the heart of the community, the community at worship, the institution which presided over births, coming of age ceremonies, marriages and deaths, which provided a society with its most basic rules and its fundamental identity.

When we think of religion in those terms then a man who fights and dies “for the temples of his Gods” is a man who fights and dies for his community and society, not a man who fights for abstract ideals. This is the difference between fighting for religion and fighting over religion.

As our societies have become secularized religion’s role in war has been greatly misrepresented. How often have we heard from disciples of this new school of militant atheism that religion is “the cause of most wars”? This is, however, utter nonsense. When Xerxes tried to conquer Greece in the early 5th Century BC, when Athens went to war with Sparta for 30 years at the end of the same century, when the Macedonian kings conquered everything between Greece and Persia in the 4th Century BC, and Rome went to war with Carthage for control of the Mediterranean World in the Punic Wars of the 3rd and 2nd Centuries BC, when Sulla and Marius, Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, Octavian and Mark Anthony went to war with each other in the civil wars that brought down the Roman Republic, was religion the instigator? Was it religion that drove on conquerors like Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler? Of course not.

Religion has a vital role to play in war but it is seldom the instigator. Religion’s role is to unite a society, to rally the community and the country together in support of the war effort, to remind us of our duties and obligations towards our society. This is not a bad thing, it is a good thing, and ultimately a necessary thing.

The possibility of war will always be present. While we should always pray for and seek out non-violent solutions to disputes between countries, we should not be so naïve as to think that this will always be possible. It is in man’s nature to go to war and the only way to achieve the goal of the elimination of war is by eliminating human beings from the planet.

Various proposals have been made in the name of “world peace” in the last century. Disarmament, the elimination of weapons and armies, has been one of them. The privatization of religion has been another. None of these proposals can bring about world peace because the cause of war lies elsewhere. All these proposals can do is to make the country that adopts them ill-prepared when war arrives.

A country should always be prepared to fight a war, although it should not go out of its way to look for one. If war comes, the country will be in a position of danger. That danger may not be very serious – it all depends upon the strength and goals the enemy. However more or less serious it may be, it will be there, because the state of being at war is by definition the state of being in danger. It is at this point that we are expected, whether we are soldiers going off to fight, or those supporting them at home, to unite behind our country. We have a moral obligation to do so.

We may not like the people who are in government when war comes. Our duty, however, is to our country, which is more than just its government. We may think the war is a mistake, is being fought for stupid reasons, and is against the best interests of our country. That does not negate our duty.

Think of the American aviator and patriot Charles Lindbergh. Before the United States entered the second World War Lindbergh was a leader of and spokesman for the America First Committee which promoted America’s noninvolvement in the war. When the United States was attacked by the Japanese Empire on December 7, 1941, however, his arguments against the war became irrelevant and he sought to rejoin America’s air force. A vindictive FDR ordered that his request to be recommissioned be denied but despite this he voluntarily flew a number of fighter missions as a civilian volunteer.

The men we honour this weekend were men who knew and understood their duty to their country. They knew that life was about more than just earning a living and having fun. They had not fallen into the trap of thinking that they were self-made individuals who owe everything they have and enjoy in life to their own merit and effort. Nor had they fallen into the trap of thinking that the life, the world, and their society and community, owed them a living. They understood that their blessings in life came ultimately from God and immediately from the civilization and culture, the country and the society, the community and neighborhood, the family and the home they were born into, grew up in, and lived in. When the call to do their duty, take up arms, and lay down their lives on behalf of their country came, they heard it in their hearts and answered.

In doing so they bequeathed to us a duty, the duty to honour and remember them, and to follow should that call ever come again.

(1)"It is sweet and right to die for one's country".

(2) In the sense of the internal chronology of the narrative. It was the sixth to be published.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Fate of America

Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? By Patrick J. Buchanan, New York, Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 2011, 488 pp, $27.99US

In the first half of the 20th Century the European powers clashed in two major conflicts that are remembered as World War I and World War II. When the second war ended in 1945, the nations of Europe were in ruins, their empires were lost, and two strong new powers emerged triumphant. The history of the second half of the 20th Century was largely the story of their rivalry. We called these powers the superpowers and they were the United States of America on the one hand and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the other. Both had nuclear arsenals, containing weapons of mass destruction far more powerful than the atomic bomb, the development and use of which had brought WWII to an end. These weapons kept the superpowers from waging a traditional war against each other and so their conflict came to be known as the Cold War.

The Cold War brought out tremendous differences of opinion among people. Some felt that the threat of nuclear holocaust, never before present, meant that peace must be achieved no matter the cost. Others believed that the Soviet tyranny, which already held millions in its clutches, had to be prevented from spreading.

It was at the height of the Cold War that Patrick J. Buchanan began his career in journalism. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, he also worked as a speechwriter and senior advisor to US Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. Both as an op/ed writer and a presidential advisor, he worked to promote America’s efforts in her struggle against the Soviet Union.

Then the Cold War ended, shortly after Reagan’s second term as US President. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. The United States was now the sole remaining superpower. The question naturally arose of what America would do with its military might in the absence of the threat of he Soviet Union. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait then-US President George H. W. Bush gave his answer. The United States would lead a coalition of free, democratic countries that would police the world, establishing a new world order and keeping it safe against aggressors like Hussein.

Pat Buchanan had a different idea. Running against Bush, he sought the Republican nomination for the 1992 Presidential election. He opposed the Gulf War and in his campaign he called for America to close its overseas bases and bring her soldiers home. Invoking George Washington’s rhetoric about “entangling alliance” he called upon the United States to return to the older, non-interventionist foreign policy of “America First”.

This was not the only plank in his platform, of course, nor would it be the only time he would run for President. He sought the Republican nomination again in 1996 and in 2000 he ran for President on the Reform Party ticket. Apart from the “America First” foreign policy that was labeled “isolationism” by his opponents, he championed economic nationalism against free trade, an end to liberal immigration, and reversing the moral, cultural, and spiritual decline of America.

Mr. Buchanan’s campaigns were unsuccessful, but his books became bestsellers. In The Great Betrayal he argued for the Hamiltonian “American system” of economic nationalism. In A Republic Not an Empire he made the case for an “America First” policy by tracing the history of American foreign policy. In The Death of the West he discussed the impending demographic crisis of Western society caused by low fertility rates, aging populations and mass immigration. In State of Emergency he took a closer look at the immigration crisis the United States is currently facing.

In his latest book, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? he revisits each of these topics in the light of current state of the United States following the economic meltdown, the quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Obama presidency. Although the final chapter offers prescriptions as to how to steer America away from the brink of doom the overall tone of the book reflects the pessimism in its title. The main theme of the book is “we have lost the country we grew up in”.(1)

In a sense that is the theme of all of Mr. Buchanan’s books and that partly explains why so many of them have become best-sellers. As a writer, Pat Buchanan is excellent at articulating what is in the hearts and minds of countless numbers of his countrymen who are unable to or do not wish to express what they are thinking. It is a theme that conservatives and patriots of other countries can sympathize with as well.

Do not be fooled by the subtitle of the book into thinking that something huge is supposed to happen in the year 2025. The subtitle is an allusion to an essay by a Russian dissident who in 1970 predicted the downfall of the Soviet Union. The predicted event which looms large in this book is actually scheduled for the year 2041. That is the year when, according to the most recent census bureau extrapolations, white Americans will become a minority in the United States.

The bulk of the book, from chapter four “The End of White America” to chapter nine “’The White Party’”, examines the question of what this will mean for America. The titles of both those chapters are quotations by the way, although only the second one uses quotation marks. The first borrows its title from an essay by Vassar professor Hua Hsu and the second from a gaffe by Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean. They seem to have been chosen to deliberately provoke the ire of the sort of people who think that emotional accusations of “racism” are a more appropriate response to people who do not consider multiculturalism and diversity to be unqualified positives than actually answering their questions and arguments.

The idea that a great deal of diversity and the absence of an ethnic core make for a stronger society is one of the sacred cows of the post-WWII, post-Civil Rights Movement, post-European colonialism/imperialism, post-apartheid South Africa world. There are no rational reasons to believe it and there is a great deal of evidence which contradicts it. When someone points out the lack of correlation between the idea and the real world that person is like the child in Hans Christian Andersons’ fairy tale who points out the obvious fact denied by everybody else that the emperor is running around buck naked.

This is what Mr. Buchanan does in Suicide of a Superpower. The attempt to transform a country from a country founded by and for a particular people with a particular language, culture, and religion into a country for all peoples of all languages, cultures, and religions, while remaining a stable, united, society with just laws protecting its citizens’ rights and liberties, is an experiment that has never been attempted before. There is little evidence to suggest the experiment will succeed and much to indicate that it is doomed to fail.

The impending demographic doom of white America has been brought upon by a combination of low fertility and high immigration. The decline in fertility resulting in rapidly aging populations that are not reproducing themselves is not strictly an American phenomenon and in chapter five we learn about how it is affecting other countries such as Russia, the UK, Germany, Israel, Japan and South Korea. Some of these have opted for high immigration like the United States. Others, like Japan and South Korea “appear prepared to accept their fate, a dying population and declining nation, rather than adopt the American solution: replacement of her departing native born with millions of immigrants.” (p. 169)

The American solution is no solution at all. In chapter nine, entitled “The Triumph of Tribalism”, Mr. Buchanan begins by borrowing a thesis from a 2008 Foreign Affairs article by Jerry Muller which challenged the conventional belief that the history of the 20th Century was one of nationalism being superceded by transnationalism after it led to the devastation of the two World Wars. The peaceful coexistence of the European powers after WWII, Muller argue, was not the result of the eclipse of nationalism but of its goals having been fulfilled. Ethnonationalism has actually been on the rise throughout the 20th Century.

Mr. Buchanan then walks us through the history of the 20th Century showing how this has been the case. From the ethnic conflict in the Balkans which ignited the first World War and started up again the moment the Communist regime in Yugoslavia fell, through World War II and the crisis in the Middle East, the renewed tribalism and nationalism in Africa and Asia after the end of European colonialism, to the nationalist movements that brought down the Soviet Empire, ethnonationalism has been a consistent factor in the history of the world in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

What this suggests is that the large-scale importation of immigrants from ethnic backgrounds widely different from both your own and from each other with no program whereby to assimilate them into a common national identity such as was signified by the “melting pot” metaphor in earlier waves of American immigration will not have the result of producing a stronger nation but of balkanizing your country. The tribal nature of mankind is the final unanswerable refutation of the idea that “diversity is our strength”, which Mr. Buchanan had ably debunked in the preceding chapter “The Diversity Cult”.

Mr. Buchanan does not just debunk the diversity myth though. He asks the question we are forbidden to ask:

Is ethnonationalism a genetic disease of mankind that all good men should quarantine wherever it breaks out? Or is this drive of awakened peoples to create nations of their own where there own kind come first a force of nature that must be accommodated if we are ever to know peace? (p. 327)

He reminds us that while ethnonationalism produced horrors “from Nanking to Auschwitz to Rwanda” it also “liberated the captive nations and brought down the ‘evil empire’”. It “was behind the pogroms of Europe but created the nation of Israel” (contrary to the lies Mr. Buchanan’s opponents constantly throw at him he clearly does not intend the former to be the good and the latter the bad in this juxtaposition).

Within all of this there lies another question, asked indirectly here, but which more and more people have come to ask in the last couple of decades. If ethnonationalism is tolerated among other peoples – and it is - why should it be forbidden to white ethnic groups?

Whatever the answer may be, Mr. Buchanan is surely correct in writing:

We may deny the existence of ethnonationalism, detest it, condemn it. But this creator and destroyer of empires and nations is a force infinitely more powerful than globalism, for it engages the heart. Men will die for it. (p. 328)

In today’s climate in which the leftist orthodoxy on cultural and ethnic matters that is known as “political correctness” is rigidly enforced, this is not the safe way to write a book about the impending perils which face your country. Suicide of a Superpower is about more than just ethnicity, immigration, and race. It is also about the economic crisis, the ultra-expensive military fiascos in the Middle East, and the moral and spiritual decline of America. There is even a chapter about the problems the Roman Catholic Church is facing worldwide.

The demographic crisis of America is the ongoing theme of six of the books eleven chapters however. While it may not be a safe topic it is a necessary one. Countries can survive huge military disasters. Countries can survive economic collapses. They cannot survive the loss of a central ethnic identity. A country is more than just a set of laws written on a piece of paper. Its political and legal institutions rest upon the foundation of a people with a shared history and identity which binds them together as a community and a society. When that is gone those political and legal institutions cannot stand.

(1) Variations of this phrase occur at a number of spots in this book. Although I have placed it in quotations it is not intended to be an exact quote of any one of them but an approximation of all of them.