(1) Last May in your essay on “the Gathering Storm” you quoted Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” and provided a number of tips for surviving it, including exercising our right to speech, defense, privacy and association. A year has passed. Is there anything you would add or modify today given the possibility that many Americans may not be able to exercise their constitutional rights (not to mention the presumed rights of creditors of the United States) ?
I would add that exercising your rights is not only good for you, it’s fun! This is a time of great uncertainty, and many people are more stressed than ever. But writing blog posts or debating the issues or studying history might help you formulate your thoughts and gain perspective on what’s happening, mastering a martial art or learning to shoot or protecting your privacy might make you feel more secure, associating with likeminded others might give you a stronger sense of community, managing your own investments or growing some of your own food or installing solar panels or whatever might make you more self-sufficient. Many of these activities are quite inexpensive and they give you more power over your life.
Although taking responsibility for your life is rewarding, I’ve discovered that it also takes a lot of time and energy to do things like take charge of your health or your finances, learn various self-defense techniques, and study the past so that you’re not doomed to repeat it.
By the way, I wouldn’t limit individual rights to what’s recognized in the constitution. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution delegates a small number of powers to the central government (Amendment X) and recognizes that individual rights are effectively unlimited (Amendment IX). Over time that founding vision has been almost entirely inverted (government power is unlimited and human rights are limited to what’s in the Bill of Rights), but it is still there for us to rediscover.
(2) You are unusual in combining a technical career with substantial intellectual essays, an online press and various artistic efforts. How did you end up where you are today?
Perhaps I’m unusual not in having diverse interests but in pursuing them so stubbornly.
Since my early teens I’ve been drawn mainly to philosophy, language, music, and technology. After college I bounced around quite a bit, working for business training companies and early website developers. When I started using Linux in the late 1990s I became quite impressed with the fact that so much value had been created for free, so I decided that I want to give back to the open-source community in some way. An opportunity came along in the form of the early Jabber instant messaging project, where my interests in language and technology led me to writing protocol specifications. That’s been my career for the last ten years, but to stay balanced I’ve spent much of my free time writing philosophical essays and books, translating ancient poetry and philosophy, playing guitar, and composing music. More recently, I’ve studied a lot of history, especially the history of civilizations (e.g., Carroll Quigley), the emergence of modernity (e.g., Ernest Gellner), the origins of the industrial revolution (e.g., Jean Gimpel and Robert Lopez), the roots of American exceptionalism (e.g., Alan Macfarlane and David Hackett Fischer), and the impact of deep technological inventions like the printing press (e.g., Elizabeth Eisenstein). There is so much to learn and to do that I like to work on lots of projects in parallel because I find that different disciplines feed into each other in surprising ways. If I didn’t already have too many responsibilities I’d learn a few more languages, become a better coder, immerse myself in a field like evolutionary psychology, or study painting or some another art-form.
(3) In your essay “American Winter” you highlight as problems:
[T]he endless debts incurred over the past twenty to forty years by American businesses, families, and governments alike; the withering away of American productive capacity in favor of mindless consumption; dependence on oil that is produced by sworn enemies of Western civilization; massive fortunes stolen (we cannot say “made”) by those who have been able to manipulate the levers of power, whether Wall Street bankers at the national level (resulting in a reckless debasement of the currency) or real estate developers at the local level (resulting in the subsidized blight of suburban sprawl) or various industries in certain states and especially unions in others (resulting in a complete capture of the political process by government employees in states like California); the never-ending expansion of welfare “entitlements” such as monthly stipends for those who do not work, guaranteed payment of medical care and pharmaceutical products for those who are not healthy, low-priced loans for those who wish to study, grants for those who wish to perform scientific research, and so on; a growing political class whose only means of livelihood is to take more and more from the productive class of those who still create real, independent value; inexorable centralization of national life in the District of Columbia; and a yawning societal and even personal chasm between collectivists and individualists, liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, secularists and religionists, technologists and environmentalists, rule makers and rule breakers, controllers and rebels — a conflict of visions that goes far beyond Red States vs. Blue States to engulf politically-connected and personally-entitled “haves” against hardworking but unprivileged “have nots”
Yet you end the essay with an optimistic note. What makes you so confident in America and Americans?
America is full of optimistic, work-focused, religious, sectarian, freedom-loving, immigrant-friendly, patriotic, rebellious, energetic, mobile, adaptable, pragmatic, inventive, individualistic, youth-obsessed, generous, philanthropic, hopeful, innovative, entrepreneurial dreamers. Americans are, essentially, crazy (founded, after all, by crazy Englishmen who crossed the Atlantic in rickety ships to create a new society in a howling wilderness). We don’t always succeed, do the right thing, or live up to our ideals. In fact, we have a lot of problems and we make a lot of mistakes, but we seem to learn from our mistakes better than any other people in history. Although many pundits have forecast American failure, decline, and decay, those who bet instead on England, France, Germany, Japan, or Russia over America were wrong, just I think those now betting on China, India, or Brazil over America will also be wrong.
American exceptionalism is not jingoism, it is an observable reality. The core differences between America and the rest of the world, and even the rest of the Anglosphere, were plain to Tocqueville in the 1830s and to countless observers before and since. Those differences are not uniformly good, but they are deep seated in American culture. That said, in many ways Americans have lost sight of the basic cultural traits I’ve outlined. We face a lot of hard decisions as individuals and as a nation about crony capitalism, centralized power, foreign intervention, mindless consumerism, excessive debt, irresponsible behavior, dependence on the public trough, and much more. In addition, we are often too busy or myopic or anti-intellectual to think deeply and honestly about the mess we’re in and how to move forward. In that sense, I am far from optimistic. But I also wouldn’t count America out just yet.
Notice that I say “America”, not “the United States”. I am much more confident about the long-term prospects of America as a cultural nation than about the United States as a political entity.
(4) In your essay “Secular vs. Sacred” you describe the modern dilemma:
Historically, the modern codification of the soul-body dichotomy goes back to Descartes and his Faustian deal with the Church, in which Descartes won the metaphysical realm of Body for the investigations of the scientists, but abandoned the realm of Soul to the strictures of religion. While this “peace treaty” between reason and faith brought the West undreamt-of material prosperity and scientific progress, it also led to the spiritual stagnation of the modern West.
A major theme of this website and forums is alternatives to Cartesian modernity. In your opinion what would it take to go “beyond Descartes” and who or what is capable of taking us there?
Wow, you dug deep to find that essay — I wrote it when I was in college for a contest held by The Humanist magazine.
Back then I saw most everything through philosophical lenses, but my more recent readings into history have led me to think that modernity is not Cartesian. Facts precede philosophies and tinkers precede thinkers. You couldn’t have Cartesian mechanism about the biological world or Deistic ideas about God as a watchmaker without first experiencing a long tradition of building machines and watches. Yet that more practical tradition started over 500 years before Descartes, with European inventions like the stirrup, the horse collar, the heavy plow, three-field rotation, the waterwheel, the clock, eyeglasses, oceangoing ships, double-entry bookkeeping, guns and gunpowder, the printing press, the compass, and so many more. All that inventiveness got started because Europeans no longer had slavery to prop them up following the collapse of classical civilization — not because some philosopher pontificated about the importance of productivity. The other great stream of modernity came from the culture of early English society, whose individualism, respect for personal rights and private property, entrepreneurialism, and scientific bent also predate Descartes by hundreds of years, as historian Alan Macfarlane has shown. In essence, those two streams produced what Ernest Gellner called “the exit” from agrarian civilizations into modernity.
Furthermore, just as I would argue that modernity is not Cartesian, so I would argue that Descartes is not modern. Have you ever noticed the similarities between his “cogito ergo sum” and Avicenna’s thought experiment of the “flying man”, who is utterly separated from corporeal existence? To my mind there is a religious quality to modern-day mechanism and reductionism, a baseless belief that we could reliably predict the future course of the universe or this planet or a particular creature if only we could know the position of every atom that is relevant to the object of prediction. Yet what factual foundation has ever been offered for the notion that we could gain such physiochemical omniscience? None whatsoever. It’s taken strictly on faith.
As to moving beyond what is taken to be Cartesian modernity, I think that project is being pursued on many fronts within Western society, in everything from practices like yoga and holistic medicine and networked organizations to the theoretical insights of complexity theory and behavioral economics and the ecological psychology of J.J. Gibson. Another hopeful sign is the accelerating dissolution of what John Taylor Gatto calls the factory model of education. Unfortunately, I think we are still quite far from a more factual, integrated approach to value-laden fields like ethics and politics. I’m working on aspects of the ethical issues through a book I’m writing entitled “The Tao of Roark”, but it’s slow going in part because I have too much to do in my career but mostly because the problems involved are so thorny.
(5) In that same essay you refer to “people power” and human rights as built on a “universal conception of sacredness.” Do you still hold today to your statement about the potential of sacredness and human rights as a unifying principles which can check unwelcome elements of governmental expansion (i.e. totalitarianism)? Do you have any concomitant critiques of contemporary usage of the term “human rights”?
It seems that I indulged in quite a bit of overblown rhetoric back in college! These days I am much more skeptical about claims of universality, mainly because after the 9/11 attacks I took the time to study both Islam and the Anglosphere, which I see as the two primary cultural visions at work in the world today. The rights that we think of as Jeffersonian or Lockean — life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness — were not imposed by governments or invented by philosophers but emerged over many centuries. As John Hasnas explored in his paper “Toward a Theory of Empirical Natural Rights”, rights are evolved solutions to the problem of minimizing violence in society. The solutions we are most familiar with today were codified in English common law, which has done the best job (although far from a perfect job) of preserving and extending them as the modern world has scaled up beyond the smaller societies of earlier times.
Although in one sense these rights are natural and universal because they are traditionally honored even in the absence of government, that potential universality is overridden and obscured by the actuality of too many philosophies, religions, autocracies, bureaucracies, and systems of government. To my mind, perhaps the greatest corruption has been the inflation of the concept of rights from those solved problems of human interaction to positive dispensations like a comfortable retirement, a convenient commute, pleasant vacations, inexpensive access to medical services and pharmaceutical products, affordable housing, and all the rest. Those things are good, but when the state provides them by taking from some people to give to others, we don’t solve problems, we cause them: tearing apart human goodwill, turning people from peaceful trade and production to legalized plunder, reducing the sense of personal responsibility and increasing the sense of dependence, and piling up debts and obligations that are simply unsustainable. That’s the hole in which many nations find themselves now, and the path forward is made much more difficult by intellectual confusion and false expectations regarding the proper solutions to problems of human interaction.
(6) In your essay “The Individualism of the Poet-Musician” you refer to ancient lyric poetry, the Medieval troubadour ethos and near-contemporaries like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. However, if there is a positive side to the troubadour ethos and nomadic lifestyle which to some degree characterize America do they not also inhibit “greatness” and facilitate other things that you disparage (like Suburban sprawl) ? Is there any way to reconcile these impulses?
You are right that historically Americans have been more mobile than people elsewhere, although statistics indicate that the rate of moving has slowed down lately. American mobility is no great surprise when you think about it: almost all of our ancestors moved here from somewhere else, we continue to attract a large number of immigrants, we have a wide range of physical, social, and economic climates to choose from, a relatively small percentage of us have careers that are tied to a particular place, etc. Here again the mere fact that American society is exceptionally mobile and dynamic compared to other societies is not all good or all bad; we can be quick about building new cities and industries and the like, but we also tend to have a disposable attitude toward almost everything.
The kind of nomadism that hurts us more is our lack of focus on the long-term consequences of our policies and decisions. For instance, U.S. politicians regularly send American troops to meddle in foreign nations; the citizenry initially approves of the intention to spread democracy or rid the world of some two-bit dictator, but doesn’t think about the pernicious influence of such interventionism on the national soul, if you will. The same goes for our endless “wars” on drugs, poverty, hunger, crime, obesity, immigration, and so on.
At the individual level, excellence or greatness in any field of endeavor does require diligence, focus, dedication, practice, and countless hours of hard work. However, too often we take that as an excuse for excessive specialization. I suppose that I still admire the ideal of a liberal education and see great value in general knowledge — whether it’s the science of climatology, the economics of national debt, the sociology of immigration, the statistics of demographic change, the psychology of investing, or the history of civilizations. Learning about these topics is not only inherently interesting, but I’ve found that it gives me greater perspective on current controversies, not to mention greater skepticism about our self-appointed elites.
(7) Many of your essays address Objectivist Philosophy as articulated by Ayn Rand, including the chasm between engineers and art (1 2 3). Are there any indications in technical or artistic fields that this gap will be diminished in the future? If so, what stands out as a positive example?
Yes, as a teenager I was heavily influenced by Ayn Rand, and it’s taken me a long time to work out my thoughts about her. In fact Rand perceived a great affinity between engineers and artists: she saw engineering as a creative act and recognized the technical discipline necessary to make works of art. For example, the architect Howard Roark in her novel The Fountainhead designed buildings that were not only beautiful but founded in good engineering. In my experience, most scientists and engineers have an aesthetic sense of what makes for an elegant solution to a technical problem in their field, and most artists are deeply immersed in the technical details of their craft.
Despite those similarities, there is an unavoidable gap between art and engineering because they serve different purposes: a product of technology is a practical tool for improving human existence, whereas a work of art organically symbolizes some conception of what’s important in life. The aesthetic aspects of technologies like cars and computers are a matter of good design, not truly artistic creation; similarly, the technical aspects of the arts are a matter of underlying craft and does not imply that art is useful in the sense that technology is. Howard Roark was an anomaly because he worked in the field of architecture, which straddles the fence between art and engineering; her novel would not have worked as well if she had written it about a composer or a sculptor.
I worry less about the chasm between technology and art than about the impact of the digital revolution on the economics of artistic practice. Simply put, the copyright era is coming to an end, first for musicians, next for writers, and eventually for visual artists as well. Anyone who makes art will need to adjust to that new reality. Personally I’ve put all of my writings and music into the public domain, but I can afford to do so because I work full-time as a technologist. Real artists will need to apply even more of their energy to making a living and finding new economic models for creative activity, which means the rest of us might have less new art to experience. Although that sounds pessimistic, humans were creating art for thousands of years before the copyright era and I think they’ll be doing so for thousands of years into the future.
What would have to happen, humanly speaking and “under the sun”, for the Christian Right and the Christian Church in America to recover a clear and present cultural mission? Is there some kind of contemplative vision that could possibly give roots and unity to the furious but desultory evangelical activity in the modern Church?
That’s an interesting way to put the question – “some kind of contemplative vision.” Without denigrating contemplation, I’d say that liturgical action rather than a contemplative vision should be at the heart of the reformation of Christian mission. That distinction is based in part on an anthropological point: We are embodied beings, and so preparation for Christian mission and ministry must not only be contemplative but also a matter of bodily training and discipline. A “vision” of life is worked into bodies and not just into minds and hearts; Christian pedagogy takes form in action, ritual, and gesture as well as in teaching and thought.
So, rephrasing the question more to my tastes: What liturgical reform should give roots to evangelical activity in the modern church? Here, the traditional answers are the obvious and right answers. Liturgy centers on Word and Table, and what the American church needs is a return to those basics. I could elaborate on all the flaws of contemporary evangelicalism – preaching that has minimal connection with Scripture and reduces to self-help and moralistic exhortation; narrow “methods” of biblical interpretation as opposed to the richness of medieval and Reformation exegesis; infrequent or non-existent Eucharist, which means infrequent or non-existent enjoyment of the hospitality of God; etc. I’m heartened by increasing interest in liturgy among evangelicals, but it could degenerate into traditionalism, with people obsessing over the quite secondary ornaments of worship instead of recovering the driving force of Word and Sacrament.
If talking about liturgy in answer to a question about the Christian Right and the church’s “cultural mission” seems odd, well, I see that as part of the problem. Christian mission certainly isn’t exhausted by what we do in liturgy, but the trajectory of mission is set by the liturgy. We are as we worship, and if we never enjoy God’s hospitality at His table, it’s not so surprising if we’re a greedy and grasping people.
In your analysis of Jane Austen’s works in Miniatures and Moral, you defend Austen’s portrayal of real heroism in both male and female characters. In the The Historical Austen by William H. Galperin (by contrast) Galperin attempts to de-code or de-construct Austen’s work by providing secret clues as to Colonel Brandon’s (supposed) active ruination of Willoughby, and Austen’s hidden disapproval. How does one (or should one) go about answering the postmodern anti-narratives that attempt to re-read every canonical author? Can’t every author eventually be de-constructed, given enough objectifying research? What is the salient point to remember when reading such deconstructions?
I’m not familiar with the book, but from your summary I find the thesis implausible. But Austen opened herself up to this sort of reduction, I suppose, since she’s always draping everything with several layers of irony. Poor Jane. She didn’t know what she was setting herself up for.
I find some “deconstructionist” readings revealing and helpful. They point to real tensions within a text that I would have missed. In that sense, deconstruction is an intensified form of New Criticism. But many deconstructive analyses get tedious, boring, and incredibly self-reflexive. When a critic needs a 50-page theoretical introduction before he ever looks at a text, when he can’t look at a text without talking about Bataille and Deleuze, something’s gone awry.
On the more general hermeneutical question: Are there tensions between surface and depth in a text? Yes, just like there are plenty of tensions within the writers who write them. Do silences and gaps speak as loud as words? Yes. Is there slippage between sign and signified, sign and referent? Yes. Communication thus seems impossible. But it only seems impossible if you’re measuring it by a standard of transparent, flawless purity. So, deconstruction is a kind of disappointed idealism: Thought and communication do not have the kind of purity that we think is necessary, and so it becomes impossible. But why should we assume that communication can only take place in that kind of pure form? To put it in more bluntly realist terms (envision Samuel Johnson kicking his rock): Communication happens. Therefore, it is possible. Since it happens through very imperfect means, these are the means by which it happens. Wishing for purity is (as Hamann recognized) the Pharisaism of Enlightenment modernity. I think too of Wittgenstein’s point that perfect clarify in communication would actually inhibit communication. “Bring me the broom” communicates better than “bring me the object with the long, thin rounded handle to which straw bristles are attached,” though it is less “precise.”
How does communication happen? How is it possible? I think that’s a theological question. Communication happens because God is the Word, and the Word is God, and the Word that is God is the condition of the possibility of inter-human communication. That means that the possibility of communication isn’t grounded in the text; deconstructionists are kind of inverted creationists, showing that, at base and in itself, the text is nothing. Communication isn’t grounded in the author either, because on overtly creationist terms, the author is made from nothing. The nihilism of deconstruction confirms a Christian insight into creation. It is perfectly consistent and logical, unless God is and is Word. Which He is.
You are a Rosentock-Huessy reader and admirer. What do you regard as his most fundamental and valuable insights for modern times?
Rosenstock-Huessy’s work is impossible to summarize simply. He said it himself in the title of one of his collections of essays: He was an “impure thinker.” But there are recurring themes that I think are important for Christians in our time. He had uncanny prophetic insight, largely because of his profound understanding of history. Long before “globalization” became a buzzword, he noticed that it was happening, and also recognized that the next thing would be a renewed tribalism. So, he gives us a good bit of insight into the dynamics of international politics and culture. More abstractly and theoretically, he was a fundamentally temporal thinker; he saw time as a more fundamental human category than space. Catherine Pickstock has pointed out that modernity is a “spatializing” culture, and Rosenstock-Huessy helps us break out of that. I’ve found his work on language to be very useful in thinking about sacraments and signs, and his concept of “bodies of time” is, I think, a profound insight into the human experience and shaping of time.
I’ve found his paradigm of the “cross of reality” immensely helpful in thinking through all sorts of issues, including pastoral issues. I serve as co-pastor of a church, for instance, that is made up of 20-somethings. I’m not a 20-something, and Rosenstock-Huessy reminds me that there is potential for clash in that generational divide. If I don’t watch myself, I could slip into nostalgia and decadence, maintaining the past for the sake of the past, saying, repeatedly, “this is the way we’ve always done it”; if the younger members of the church don’t watch themselves, they could become revolutionaries who close their ears to the wisdom that their elders bring. Both sides are tempted to hunker down on one pole of the cross of reality, but the health of the church depends on both sides staying at the center of the cross – enduring and suffering the clash of past and future, listening to each other in love and patience, and forming a dynamic present out of that clash.
In Against Christianity, you argue for a restoration of Christendom and a Reformation of Christianity, “For all its animus to modernity, the Christian Right made one of the most characteristic of modern political beliefs the foundation of its entire agenda: the assumption that the state has the jurisdiction of morals”.
You also suggest, with NT Wright, that the Church is called to be “Israel in a new way.” In Paul’s words, “Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” If Revelation is the story of the unholy alliance between Rome and Jerusalem, with the Ekklesia called upon to become a Church militant and polis that challenges this alliance, and if “political liberalism and political conservatism are variations of one outlook (the modern liberal one)”, with a divine call to resist the “ethos of Americanism and the culture of globalization”, what practical advice would you give to the conservative movement in avoiding the dangers of (real or imagined) Constantianism as against (also) the perils of a withering cultural retreat?
That’s a complicated question, but I’ll venture some incomplete and inadequate thoughts in response. My argument in Against Christianity is that Christians have become so deeply accommodated to modernity that the difference between church and world has been blurred. America is a particularly obvious case of this. Because of our deeply Christian history, and for other reasons as well, American Christians are particularly apt to mistake the kingdom for the country. We are, as Sidney Mead famously said (quoting Chesterton, I think), a “nation with the soul of a church.” That brings some important benefits, but it’s also a dangerous temptation. For the last century or so, however, that alliance has been cracking up. Christians just haven’t caught up with reality yet. We’re stuck in the 19th century in many ways, and that’s particularly true of conservative evangelicals, The breakup of this alliance is like the breakup of the alliance of Rome and Christianity that occurred at the beginning of the Middle Ages, which was given intellectual form by Augustine in the City of God. I think we need an American City of God, one that gives due appreciation to the American achievement but also carefully disentangles the American story from the Christian story. That would be the intellectual side of the problem you state.
Practically, pastorally, the issue is delicate and difficult. There’s always the danger that Christians create artificial differences with the world around them, difference for the sake of difference. That’s a recurring problem in pietist evangelicalism – card-playing, dancing, drinking, smoking become taboos, markers that bound off Christians from non-Christians. But those are not biblical standards. So, how does the difference become palpable, but organically and not artificially so? Sexual ethics is crucial here. Nothing displays the confusions of our culture like our sexual confusions; nothing is so offensive to our culture as saying that there are absolute and inviolable sexual standards. Christians need to defend, and live, biblical sexual morality. Another crucial area, I think, is that of charity and mercy. Since the rise of the religious right, Christians have become known by their anger, often by their fear. That’s not what should mark us. Love, expressed concretely in sacrificial ministry to the world, should mark Christian churches.
You bounce off of Stanley Hauerwas, Rodney Stark, and John Yoder, as well as Phillip Rieff and John Millbank in this book. What other thinkers have influenced you since on these topics, and which ones could you recommend for further study?
When I first started reading theology seriously, I read a good bit of Reformed literature, and especially those dreaded reconstructionists – RJ Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen. I learned a great deal from them, and I owe many of my interests in the theology of culture and political theology to them. Cornelius Van Til’s work, especially as it was mediated to me through the work of John Frame, provided the foundations of my thinking on all sorts of topics. Seminary professors were key, especially Vern Poythress and Richard Gaffin. Behind nearly everything I do is the work of James Jordan and the “Biblical Horizons” circle that he’s formed. Jim’s biblical work is unsurpassed, but Jim has also had a long interest in cultural and political issues, and always throws fresh, biblical, light on those questions. Liturgical scholars have also been hugely important. Through Jordan’s encouragement, I started reading Alexander Schmemann, whose little book *For the Life of the World* has been seminal. I think I’ve learned a lot about politics from Shakespeare as well.
Do you essentially accept Phillip Rieff’s definition of culture as interdict (or “No”), in which outside behaviour becomes unthinkable, and individuals are “in culture” precisely as “culture is in them”? Are there any other real competitors to this kind of definition of what constitutes genuine personhood? How does a Christian go about presenting such an “Old Testament” view to the modern, Hegelian or proto-scientific outlook?
I accept Rieff’s definition, but I wouldn’t say it stands alone as the final definition of culture. I don’t think there is, or ever will be, a final comprehensive definition of culture. I like Rieff partly because it resonates with so much of the Bible, and also because it is so thoroughly counter-cultural. It’s a rather arresting and simple way to get at a lot of cultural pathologies. But I’d accept a Milbankian criticism that making Rieff’s definition primary or foundational would mean making “negativity” prior to positivity. So, again, Rieff gets it right, but he doesn’t say everything that needs to be said.
Your last question is the crucial one: How can “No” become a plausible response to anything? One answer is that we can see the damage done by a refusal to say No. That’s only a partial answer, though; we’ve seen abortion, assisted suicide, “partial-birth” infanticide, and few seem ready to say Stop. What does it take? The other, and more basic answer, is that the biblical “No” become plausible when the gospel takes hold. So, again, the positivity of the good news is prior to the embrace of interdiction.
In your Against Christianity, you suggest that a prophet is someone who tells a king, “You can’t do this stupid shit. If you do, your people will hate you, and you will wind up in f—–g hell.” You openly wonder about the possibilities of an “imperial conversion” at the top, and (rightly) ask why an emperor with actual power wouldn’t be obligated to make his Empire more Christian. However, in an age dominated by a massive Demos, how does one go about making the same point, even at all? Can the point even be made apart from a hierarchy or an Imperial head? If not, is this an argument for monarchy? What other polity might America consider, re-consider? Or is democracy so deeply imbedded, and so identified with the masses, that any alternative is inconceivable?
Yes, I instinctively still think in rather medieval terms about political life – kings and subordinate powers and all that. Partly that’s because those are largely the terms of biblical political discourse. That’s no accident, I expect. For all the populism of American life, there are still elites who shape public discourse, moral expectations, political action. There are still “rulers,” and radical conversion of those rulers would have a profound effect on American “democracy.” That would obviously take a different form than it did in the early middle ages, when a king’s conversion led to mass baptisms.
Tocqueville already commented on how uniform American opinion tended to be, far more so than in European countries. The diversity of our democracy is partly a myth. There’s a recurring current of messianism in American political history, a yearning for a savior. That could take an ugly fascist turn at some point. So, I don’t think that the current “democratic” form of American politics is necessarily permanent.
I am not arguing for monarchy. I think monarchy is a perfectly legitimate form of government, but not the only or necessarily the best. Israel had several different political systems during her history, all of them established by God, so I don’t think Scripture endorses any particular order.
From your blog:
“Published in 1992, The Knight’s Move: The Relational Logic of the Spirit in Theology and Science by James Loder and W. Jim Neidhardt is not widely discussed or read, so far as I have seen. It deserves better. It suggests a new grammar and logic for the dialogue science and theology under the connected categories of “relationality” and “spirit.” Drawing from Kierkegaard, mediated through Niels Bohr, the authors highlight the principle of ”complementarity,” or the coherence of contradictories,which for them is ultimately a Christological category. The idea is that two mutually exclusive and exhaustive explanations are necessary to make sense of some reality: Simply, 100% God and 100% man of the incarnation. This provides them with a model to explore knowledge, human development, discovery, and the strange loops of human thought and of corporate life. A bit of a Kierkegaard overload, but it’s well worth some time.”
What kind of hope do books like these have of reconciling the modern scientific temperament with anything approaching radical Christian orthodoxy? Is there a good definition of what constitutes the scientific temperament? Is it fated to grow without limit? What possible limits, at least in a democracy, could it have? What possible religious implications/limits does it have? Are we (practically) even able to conceive anything, intellectually, outside its limits?
My scientific knowledge is pretty abysmal, so take what I say on this point with more than the usual grain of salt. Loder and Neidhardt, however, are not the first or only writers to note a “spiritual” turn within science. It’s as if we’ve pushed the scientific approach to reality to the point where it inverts and turns into something else. Already in the 19th century, the Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck pointed out that materialism naturally turns into spiritualism. Atomistic materialism attributes spiritual, divine properties to the basic components of the material world – atoms are indivisible (they were in the 19th century!), indestructible, etc. At the most basic level of material reality, matter doesn’t act like matter anymore. Insofar as I understand things, it seems that the physics of the last century has confirmed Bavinck’s point in spades.
But you’re talking about the limits of the enterprise of science as well. There, I guess I’d have to go back to my comments on Rieff. Modernity is the primacy of possibility, the refusal of interdict, the refusal to say No. So long as every possibility remains an open possibility, there won’t be the political will to shut down certain lines of scientific inquiry that are dehumanizing. Again, the success of the gospel seems to me the only thing that will re-establish even the possibility, much less the primacy, of interdict.
Are you familiar with the writings of Alain de Benoist, George Parkin Grant, or any other modern political theorists who are working with concepts of federalism and local sovereignty? Does partition, decentralization, and localism have any prominent theorists you can recommend, or hold any promise for solving the magnitude of problems connected with the US Empire in decline?
I don’t know Benoist at all, and know too little about Grant to comment.
What non-Christian thinker do you owe the greatest debt to?
That’s a very interesting question. I’m afraid my list is fairly short. There are a number of Jewish biblical scholars who have deeply affected by work – especially Jacob Milgrom on Leviticus and Robert Alter on the literary features of the Old Testament. I’ve found Derrida very challenging, and I think of him as a kind of proto-Trinitarian thinker, uncovering all sorts of evidence for vestigia Trinitatis. In my work on sacramental theology, I made use of cultural anthropologists working in the area of ritual studies whose religious commitments are uncertain – Victor Turner, van Gennep, and others. I’ve read in the Western philosophical tradition, and in Western political and social thought, though I’m very far from mastering any of it. Much of the effect of that reading has been mediated through Christian thinkers like van Til, Rushdoony, Milbank and David Hart.
““Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world — that let God in. … The Church of tomorrow will be a Church of minority. … If society in its totality is no longer a Christian environment, just as it was not in the first four or five centuries, the Church herself must form cells in which mutual support and a common journey, and thus the great vital milieu of the church in miniature, can be experienced and put into practice.”
This interview with Fernando “Ferfal” Aguirre follows our review of his recent book, The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse.
To what extent has control in Argentina actually been reasserted since 2001? Are conditions now more or less back to pre-crisis circumstances? If not, what remains to be done, and have you found the role of the people in government diminished as it attempts to rebuild? What businesses came out on top a la Goldman Sachs (so far) ? What industries came out stronger?
Conditions will never be like they were pre 2001. Yes, the anarchy only lasted a few weeks during December 2001, and control has been of course restored. What we have now is a different reality. We now live clearly in a 3rd world status in most regards. We still have a large and somewhat sophisticated capital like Buenos Aires, but then over half of the middle class became poor in a matter of months. We now have 50 % of the population in poor class and over 20% of the population BELOW poverty line. These are people that don’t make enough money to buy the required calories for a minimum diet.
We lost our president in 2001 and we lost the continuity of our democracy. That has long lasting results. We now have an authoritarian presidential marriage (Mr. and Mrs. Kirchner) and we are slowly becoming more and more like Venezuela. This will take many years if not decades to revert. The damage is long lasting. It will take a lot of time before we have serious institutions, a believable country plan that extends beyond a couple months, and we regain the trust form foreign investors.
In a nutshell the business that came out on top were either the ones that bribed their way through with the local power or the smart businessmen that satisfied the market needs left empty by the collapsing government apparatus. Private schools and private transportation, private security and such.
These are the ones that found the opportunity within the crisis.
You state that after SHTF, the prevalence of bribing went up. What was it like before? He also mentions that some areas became no-go for law enforcement except in numbers. To what extent was this simply because of community discontent and poverty, or was there more of a Balkanization based on ethnicities, gangs, etc? What effect did the situation have on gangs overall? What happened to drug prices? (an important question in terms of figuring how the cartels are funded)
We already had corruption before. Now its simply worse, more outspread and almost mandatory if you want to get about anything done.
Some of the villas and settlements, they go on for several blocks and are so intricate and the criminal population is so large, its just very hard to get inside. In some operations hundreds of police officers were needed to have the required number of manpower to get someone out of there, and even with those numbers, there was intense gunfire.
The authorities simply prefer to find other ways, and avoid that kind of publicity were the video looks very much like a war zone.
Fuerte Apache, many of the villas, they are places where cops mostly prefer to avoid.
For Fuerte Apache it was required to use the military to keep the area somewhat pacified. Even then there’s lots of crime and intense gunfights in those areas.
As for drugs, the same principle I insist on was used: Adapt to the new market.
The drug dealers did just that. They started offering the cheapest drug ever offered in Argentina… and the most lethal and addictive: Paco.
Made using the waste of cocaine, Paco is smoked and its estimated that ½ of the males in the Buenos Aires suburbs between ages 18 and 35 are Paco addicts.
Of course, we have the worst drug abuse situation ever seen in our country.
Lack of future for the new generations, poverty, unemployment and a corrupt government that only pays off “muscle” for protests and political support is a lethal combination where Paco and other drug and alcohol abuse easily festers.
You are a younger man with a history of comparatively few injuries. Any thought to how you will modify your training in empty hand as you get older? Randy Coture, a mountain in the MMA, is now 46. Coture is a one in a million specimen. Most will have to adapt their ideas of defense well before then, depending on conditions and how well the body gets treated. You say in the book that boxing and BJJ (Brazilian jujitsu) are the poles of your training- I submit the poles should become a tripod, and pressure point/soft tissue focus ought to be the third leg. Any thought to studying the internal/”soft” styles, enough so to address this systematically?
The more tools you have, the better, but I think there’s simply no substitute for force on force, not only delivering punishment freely but also being able to take it.
This requires a strong body and sooner or later age affects us all, so absolutely, you have to adapt as you get older. Once I know I can’t take a beating, I’ll know its time to adapt my strategy.
What to do? Many things. As for senior h2h fighting, I’d stick to more simple moves as I grow older, give the loss of flexibility and then strength. Keep training with weapons, staying proficient with edged weapons as well. The older you get, the craftier and trickier you should be.
One reader once told me that after reading my book, given his disability to perform well physically, he made sure he walked everywhere with a couple of Dogo Argentino dogs. Keeps them close when at home too. I can’t argue with that, I think its pretty smart.
Let me tell you, even Randy “The Natural” Couture would be in a world of pain (blood and teeth) facing a Dogo Argentino protecting his owner. Street fighting and self-defense are not supposed to be fair.
You detail how so much economic activity during the crisis went at least “gray” if not black, and the widespread use of foreign currency. An important point you make though, on a number of fronts, is that the pre-existing order doesn’t actually go away, contrary to the Mad Max scenarios so favored by some. To that extent, how much did the government of Argentina spend trying to recoup taxes when things were at their most chaotic? Were there Argentinian IRS agents doing some version of street audits on businesses and large transactions ? Once things stabilized, were there widespread audits on businesses after the fact to make sure numbers matched up ?
The Argentine version of IRS went absolutely nuts, became worse and worse as time goes by. Not only are they used as a tool to get as much money as possible out of what’s left of the middle class, they are also very corrupt, often freezing business accounts just to ask for a bribe if you want that … “mistake” … to be solved within a reasonable amount of time.
All privacy laws are violated in order to collect as much money as they can. For example, during the World Soccer Cup, people that bought big screen TVs were considered high profile people and taxed heavily. They used google maps to check who had pools in their homes and tax them accordingly because of this “luxury”. I’m not inventing anything, this was all proudly announced as smart maneuvers by the government to collect more.
After things went wrong, was there ever any concerted effort by the people or criminal groups to target the financial manipulators and government mechanisms that were perceived to have allowed the crisis to develop? Any vigilante attacks against public figures?
No, not really. People are mostly law-abiding citizens and criminals? … they love times like these were they can basically get away with everything. De la Rua and a couple of other politicians were blamed for everything, De la Rua is being charged because of the murders during the riots of December 2001 but he’s still free. But no, no vigilante activity.
Along with the regular inconvenience of government writ large, you state in your book that it is likely firearm confiscation, post-SHTF, will become a priority for a government attempting to reassert its monopoly on violence. There is some basis for this, as you cited gun round ups post-hurricane Katrina. Considering how vital the ability to defend oneself against grave threats can be in a breakdown of order, and how few tools government may have to contain it, at what point do you see a justification for Americans to consider things “too far gone” to trust the government any more ? While recent USSC rulings seem to have solidified private ownership, the fear in the US is that ammunition may be regulated so heavily or taxed so thoroughly that it would become a de facto ban. Any thoughts on the Obama administration’s move on the UN Small Arms treaty, which has potential if adopted to put handloaders in jail and regulate privately owned firearms as if they were battlefield weapons?
I think Katrina was a good example. When guns were needed the most they were taken away from the people. I think there’s not much to do. When dealing when such obvious criminal, anti-constitutional activity, I think it the people’s obligation to hide their weapons and yes, lie to protect their God given, constitutional right to self defense.
Notice how people were naïve and answered yes when asked if they had weapons.
People, lets put this into context: There’s chaos because of the flooding/hurricane/earthquake and mercenaries are going around taking the weapons away from people. You have a constitution that backs you up. You have a right to lie to these criminals so as to keep the tool that enables you to protect yourself and your family.
It’s no different than a Blood or Crips gang member asking you the same question.
People, your life is more important.
The way to prepare for such a disaster is to buy a couple firearms with no paper trail, some ammo and keep them cached somewhere else as your tyranny kit. Having said that, under those conditions, I’d get busy to move out of the country as fast as I can.
Takuan Seiyo was born in Communist Eastern Europe and socialized there and then in Switzerland, France and elsewhere. He received his university education and was naturalized in the United States, but interest in some aspects of the Japanese culture took him eventually to Japan, where he now lives. He describes himself as bi-racial, tri-national, quadri-degreed, quinti-lingual and sexto-ethnic. As to religious conviction, he buys directly from the wholesaler while remaining a cultural Christian. Mr. Seiyo’s pen name is both his Japanese nickname that means “Western pickled radish,” and a symbolic way to honor one of his heroes, the 17th century Japanese Zen monk, Takuan Soho.
Seiyo has found this sufficient, particularly as he had taken up the pen to comment on the West from an Eastern perspective. However, since a chance reading took him to the Kevin MacDonald territory, in related matters he finds it proper to elaborate further that he is half-Jewish, son of Holocaust survivors on both sides, and Catholic from birth. An international media executive for many years, Seiyo took up the pen after a chance airport encounter with Tom Wolfe in 2006. His articles are available mainly at the Brussels Journal, Gates of Vienna, Intellectual Conservative, VDare, and the Quarterly Review.
Why the body snatchers and pod metaphors? Aren’t there other non-alien terms for similar ideas in the Western tradition?
I don’t think “ideas” can begin to describe what’s going on anymore. You can say that feminism is an idea. But when contemporary feminism’s official position is to support Muslim immigration and Muslim autonomy (e.g. sharia) in the West, feminism is no longer an ideological movement but a suicide cult. No, it’s an unconscious suicide cult.
Or think about the establishment in all the Western countries that has not a care in the world with respect to its wholesale importation of Muslims, even overtly radical Muslims, to become new citizens. What “ideas” can you possibly put on one scale that could outweigh the willful and moronic denial of the lessons of history and of everyday reality on plain view in every Western city where a Muslim minority lives?
How would you describe the mesh of officially enforced gross lies and open government coercion throughout the West that we inadequately call “Political Correctness”? These are matters of life and death, in every area. The salient example being always Islam, I’ll condense what could easily take 50,000 words to just one name: Major Nidal Malik Hasan. David Horowitz had a relevant post about that: “Our brain-dead country.”
I find the vocabulary of B-movies most suited to describe this phenomenon. I could call our brain-dead (despite 120+ IQs) ruling elites Zombies, the Living Dead, Ghouls etc. I chose “Body Snatchers.” If you see the film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” a few times, and combine it with reflection on what’s happening to us, the aptness of this metaphor will grow on you.
IQ is not a measure for assessing achievement, but only the potential for achievement. I am hardly the authority to expound on why IQ is the central measure, but there are dozens of great books summarizing tens of thousands of relevant studies. Start from Jensen and end not before Vanhanen.
And it’s not just (potential for) achievement. Look into the paper published in the British Journal of Health Psychology (November 2006) by Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa. Kanazawa presents data suggesting that African states suffer relatively low levels of population health not because of poverty, but because their populations are less intelligent than people in richer countries. The ludicrous rage among the British bien pensant that this paper elicited is a worthy subject per se.
I don’t believe I differ with Spengler over this point. I differ only with respect to my insisting that not only the mean score is important but also the standard deviation. A society like Japan’s, with a higher IQ mean, will yield many more good engineers than Italy can. But because its IQ dispersion is so much narrower than Italy’s, Japan (or China etc.) will produce less genius, i.e. fewer IQ “outliers.”
Now, is this the only ingredient necessary for achievement? Of course not. There is character .e.g. hard work and emotional resilience; there are cultural factors, e.g. Protestant Work Ethic or Confucianism; there are chance and fate factors: your parents, your status in society etc.
But here things get even more complicated. Just what do we mean by “IQ” and by “achievement”? There are different types of intelligence, as per the Howard Gardner classification. There are different types of achievement.
Are we talking about making point guard in the NBA or tenured professor at MIT? I wrote a short story about this, “Clueless in Lagos,” based on my experiences in Africa, in the Winter 2008 issue of Quarterly Review.
Which countries do you think will do the best in the coming shuffle? Although Western European countries have been praised for leading the way in suppressing racism and anti-semitism, don’t they look the worst in many ways? America? Is there even any hope for Japan, with all of its demographic trouble?
Suppressing racism and antisemitism are not the sufficient or even necessary ingredients for what I presume you mean by “doing best.” To the contrary, I believe that inasmuch as the West is concerned, the prospects of survival and thriving are inversely related to the efforts to suppress “racism.” It follows that the Central European countries, e.g. Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia have a good chance of a great future if they manage to resist Eurabia’s pressure to eradicate their natural ethnic defense impulses. The countries that have eradicated “racism” the most, e.g. Great Britain and Sweden, are looking at the worst future of all.
I believe that America has a good long-term future, but not as one country. Its hundred million Body Snatchers, Marxist globalists, hostile minorities etc. deserve to live in a socialist multicultural paradise, but not with me. The rest of the citizens deserve and want to live in a country resembling that of their ancestors. The Federal structure of the country will facilitate this separation.
Japan’s future too depends on its ability to reconnect with its past history and values, but in a wholesome way. Defeat in World War 2 freaked them out to such an extent that they threw almost everything away, including many valuable cultural and spiritual assets. “Demographic trouble” of the sort Japan suffers from can be reversed peacefully, through cultural change. On the other hand, “demographic trouble” of the sort Great Britain is suffering from has only two solutions: bloodshed, or eradicating Great Britain. The second solution is well under way.
You’ve said that “Nature, unlike Lake Wobegon, does leave children behind.” Does God?
Yes, of course. There is the “leaving behind” of Christ on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Even literally so: one of the accepted theories as to the meaning of the verb “sabachthani” is that it’s derived not from the Aramaic root “sabaq,” i.e. to forsake, but from the Hebrew “azav”, to leave – hence “zavtani” or My God, My God, why has thou left me.”
The same question has been posed by uncountable good people to whom really bad things have happened. Think of the Italian or Irish peasant, pious and righteous, being marched off with his entire family in chains to a waiting Algerian slavers’ galley. Think of the kind Jewish professor, waiting naked in line before the gas chamber while his wife and children are being pushed into a sealed death-trap trucks within his view. A whole branch of thought, theodicy, has been built on this dilemma.
But you can look at it more prosaically too. Think of Salieri complaining to God about Mozart. Or my friend, a gifted violinist, who killed himself at 25. He’d spent 20 years of his life, since the age of 5, preparing to be a virtuoso, and when he finally achieved what few have in them to attain — graduation from a fabled musical academy – he realized that God had given him a gift large enough to be a staff player in a symphonic orchestra, but not large enough to have thousands paying to hear him, as a soloist.
Certainly Christianity has played a formative role in the establishment of Europe, but have not many Christian groups, including substantial elements with in the Catholic church, as Paul Gottfried has remarked here at the Idiots, denounced everything that is not ‘universal’ ? What positive role can Christianity have today?
If you follow news of, say, activism in bringing savage Muslim populations from Africa to the U.S. on the bleeding-heart account of their being “refugees”, you’ll find that explicitly Christian groups are at the forefront of this effort.
Christianity has decayed, along with the rest of Western culture. In the case of the former, it’s reaction to (and cosmic payback for) many centuries of repression, obscurantism and greed for power. In the case of the latter, it’s Hitler’s revenge, and it’s the principles of the Enlightenment taken to their reductio ad absurdum.
Christianity can play a positive role today by giving up its exclusive telephone line to God, while making a strong case that any other religion – most prominently Islam – that claims to be in the exclusive possession of such a line, is the enemy of humanity. I believe that Christianity will be better off by giving up its globalist ambitions but reinforcing instead its inseparable connection with the history, culture and very soul of the West.
And the West will be better off reinforcing such a connection reciprocally. Not in the sense of claiming to possess the one and only universal truth, but in the sense of saying that this is our way to reach truth and grace. The Buddhists have their own way, the Jews have another one partially similar to ours, and the Muslims will have none as long as they seek to extirpate all the others. It’s the story of the blind men and the elephant.
Living in Japan, one learns how ludicrous it is to make religion the centerpiece of one’s identity. The religion of Japan is and has always been, “Japaneness.” There are at least 15 different strains of Buddhism there, there is Shinto, and all the main Christian denominations have adherents too. But religion is perhaps the fifth most important component of one’s identity, the first being race, the second culture, the third social position, and the fourth, gender.
Christianity already has a storehouse of unique ideas. It already has a storehouse of art inspired by it that’s superior by a wide margin to anything else in the history of humanity. Its paintings and music, sculptures and literature, architecture and drama could never have been the same without Christianity. Arguably, nor could its science.
And that’s just the beginning. If you visit the dining table and the clothing rack, the calendar and the whole rhythm of family life, it’s all Christianity there too. Christianity plays a hugely positive role in the life of everyone living in the West already, whether he acknowledges it or not, irrespectively of his faith and church attendance. So the issue is only to acknowledge that.
In your “From Meccania to Atlantis” series you remark:
“That Jews are disproportionately represented among the chief Body Snatchers is one thing, and it calls for a rational critique and repudiation… Kevin MacDonald’s is not such a rational critique. MacDonald’s is an Antisemitic theory in search of supporting facts. The facts are there, but they do not necessarily support that particular theory. “
This remark is confusing. What constitutes an anti-semitic theory? What is an appropriate rational critique?
A negative group stereotype is useful, provided that it be calibrated, correct and comprehensive. Also, it has to distinguish between what applies to a (mean of a) group, and what applies to each individual member of the group by faulty deduction.
When a person holds to a set of negative beliefs about Jews that does not fulfill these caveats, I call him an antisemite. If a theory propagates a negative gestalt of Jews that does not explicitly fulfill those caveats, I call it an antisemitic theory.
An appropriate critique of the Jews would have to account for the following:
A. The ubiquity of the so-called “Jewish” traits and “Jewish” worldly success among all Mercurian (Sowell and Slezkine obligatory here) diasporas, e.g. the Armenians, Lebanese in Hispano-America and West Africa, the Chinese in Southeast Asia, Indians in the Anglo countries etc.
B. The Jewish propensity to leftism has a similar source to that of the Christian propensity to leftism. It’s the Bible and Talmud for Jews. For Christians, it’s the Bible and the teachings of the Jewish Man–God whose own contemporaries called “rabbi.” Unless you show me how the New York liberal differs in his “evolutionary” essence from the Stockholm Social Democrat, your theory is but a package of your own antisemitic prejudices.
C. The Eastern European Jews who became Communism’s truest believers and who committed evil in its name did so because Communism had given them their first in Russian (or Hungarian etc.) history shelter from onerous persecution and discrimination. They had become fanatical Communists. The same action – reaction syndrome exists with other harmful, Jewish-related activities. For instance, the Jewish intellectuals who turned the Frankfurt School into an instrument for undermining the West got active in the 30s, when Nazis were already in power, and reached their full bloom with Adorno etc. only after the Holocaust. If you don’t shed some light on the reactive nature of these negative Jewish phenomena while piecing together a critique of the Jews, you have just stated a half truth, i.e. a lie.
D. The failure to fulfill the caveats of comprehensiveness and individual distinction are so glaring in the case of the Jews as to be impossible, except if one does so on purpose. Because with all the negatives that one can attach to the Jewish presence in gentile society, there are tremendous positives too. I raised the issue recently in a letter to VDare.com, that you’ll find here. You will not believe the volume of foaming rage emails I got from genocidal antisemites in response.
I find that Kevin MacDonald’s writing is simple Jew-bashing not because it’s a taboo to bash Jews, but because his writing is sorely deficient in the four ingredients above.
In your article the Last Samurai and Europe’s First Suicide you state:
“Future historians will see the West’s postmodern regime of liberalism, multiculturalism, sham egalitarianism, tolerance of the intolerable, cowardice, one-worldism and stigmatization of the male and the white, for the suicide it is. It will be just as plain as our image of World War 1 is now. And just like then, by paying heed to lessons from the East, the Western self-erasure unfolding now could have been averted. The greatest lesson, though, and one that is by now outer-space alien to the shallow midgets running the West’s countries on behalf of their devitalized demos, is embedded in the character of the man whom we seek to commemorate here,
What opinions do you hold about the figure of Coudenhove-Kalegri, one of the architects of the EU, who said that the “man of the future will be of mixed race”?
Being of mixed race and adhering to a mixed culture are not necessarily related, except, I suspect, below a certain IQ threshold.
White Westerners are already a mixed race. You have Scythians, Sarmatians and other Central Asians there, Jews intermixing with gentiles for a good 2300 years, and so on. Hardly anyone except for the bluest of bluebloods can trace his ancestry more than 150 years. For comparison, consider my Japanese family that knows its full genealogical tree going back over 700 years, as do practically all families of the samurai class. I am the first non-Japanese on that tree.
I can’t dignify a type like this Coudenhove-Kalegri by even looking him up in the encyclopedia. These people range from the evil to the demented. I am not, and as a big mixture myself cannot be, a racial purist. But when I hear types like Sarko extol the virtues of métissage as the future of the French Republic, it makes this non-racist’s blood boil.
In Japan, the most racially pure society I know, they love mixed Japanese–White marriages, provided that the “gaijin” is smart and successful, or at least handsome, so that the children inherit those traits. What they don’t believe in is miscegenation as an ideological imperative, which seems to be the credo of this C-K character.
Have you found a mixed cultural background a benefit which helps detachment, or has it reconfirmed your attachment to American culture?
My mixed cultural background has been helpful to me in getting an accurate reading of human reality. It’s like fixing the position of a place through triangulation. When you read a situation as a German- influenced Pole, as an American, and as a Japanese, where all three readings overlap indicates a higher probability of accuracy in your perception. And the differences are instructive in their own way, too.
I am not sure if I could call myself “attached to American culture.” I am attached to the set of 18th century giants who founded the United States, and to the original American Constitution, and all the heritage of freedom that ensued from that. But I am not attached to the 20th century perversions of these ideas by the liberal elite, or to pop culture elements like baseball, hot dogs or stickers on $5 prole caps that read “Proudly Made in America.”
You are one of the prominent popularizers of Carl Schmitt today in the United States. Is the liberal elite frightened by his theories? If so, is it because, as Alain de Benoist suggests, he correctly assesses that an amplification of the spectre of global terror (as performed by the Bush administration) destroys democracy by rendering a permanent state of exception?
I don’t think that American liberals fear or even think much about Carl Schmitt. They simply use association with his ideas or the failure of some of his exponents to attack Schmitt sufficiently as evidence of fascist sympathies. This has been done not only in my case but also to Straussians, on the basis of their teacher’s interest while in Germany in Schmitt’s Concept of the Political.
National movements are frequently associated with anti-semitism. As a Jew, have you personally experienced anti-semitism by nationalist groups? If so, please share an experience or two.
Although I have never been attacked by leaders of European nationalist movements, it is possible to see why Jews of a certain age (most of whom are dead by now) might have associated anti-Semitism with certain forms of nationalism. In Europe in the early twentieth century nationalism did carry conspicuous anti-Semitic strains but except for the Russian far Right those strains don’t seem to be integral to most European nationalisms today. But as Jews overreact to these forms of reawakened nationalism, and even line up on the side of Islamicist immigrants against the native population, nationalist movements of the Right may move again for understandable reasons in an anti-Jewish direction.
You’ve written on the campaign against the Junge Freiheit and limitations on free speech in supposedly free Germany including the virtual media blackout attending the firebombing of their offices. Can we expect something similar for independent media in the United States?
I couldn’t imagine that Americans (although this may be a failure of imagination) would ever allow themselves to be jerked around in quite the same fashion as the Germans. Americans generally feel good about their country, which they identify with human rights and democracy. Germans by contrast see themselves as the descendants of genocidal murderers, whose entire past up until the postwar American occupation was full of bigotry and belligerence. There is nothing that Germans could do, or so their media and democratically elected leaders tell them, to cleanse themselves entirely of their collective guilt toward Jews and their neighbors. The German mainstream media and academic world are far more antipatriotic than even those whom FOX commentators condemn as the “hate America” crowd.
Your Ph.D. thesis on Catholic Romanticism in Munich received scant notice in your book. Do you no longer believe in the positive potential of such an ideal (assuming you ever did, if not, why did you chose to focus on that topic)?
I simply lost interest in my dissertation topic after I expanded it into a book. This did not come about because of a philosophical decision or because of any existential turning point.
In your response to Kevin MacDonald you state that he overemphasizes “the importance assigned to Jewish efforts to ‘deethnicize’ Western Christian societies,” noting the inherent liberalism attending both Canadian Catholic and Pennsylvania Anabaptist communities. Kevin MacDonald disputes, however, that there is corresponding evidence for an internal WASP implosion. Do you find WASP culture subject to the same problems as other Christian sects?
I’ve no idea what kinds of WASPs Kevin has encountered recently. At my college the overwhelmingly WASP faculty voted last week overwhelmingly to attend diversity training classes and to require students to discuss their homophobia, sexism and racism in special classes reserved for this purpose. This seems necessary in response to outbursts of Christian bigotry directed against “religious and ethnic minorities,” incidents that never occurred.Part of the solution to our raging bigotry proposed by my WASP colleagues is to fill our college with minority students, brought from neighboring inner cities. Has Kevin, by the way, read the social statements of mainline Protestant denominations and even of Evangelicals? They are full of lamentations about lingering racism and statements identifying sin with politically incorrect attitudes.
What about Catholic culture?
I’ve always been skeptical of the view, which was widespread in the 1950s, that the Catholic Church or Catholicism is going to save the American Right from the clutches of the Left. From where I stand, it seems that the Church can’t even manage her own flock. Most American, English and Canadian Catholics hold more leftist social and cultural positions (not to mention voting patterns) than their Protestant fellow-citizens. I wish that weren’t the case but it is.
In your recent autobiography you state a personal affinity for certain aspects of Calvinism. Is there any reason why you don’t accept the religious doctrines of Calvinism?
I am indeed attracted to Calvinism as both a theological system and a formative culture for the early American Republic. It is an impressive attempt to give architectonic form to a Hebraic vision of an all-powerful God, who expresses Himself as sovereign will. It also avoids the simplistic notion of ethical rationalists, that one can teach human beings to be good by appealing to their shared reason. Calvinists understand the fallen and depraved side of the human personality, and they also grasp that doing good requires an exercise of will that can only be accomplished through divine intervention aka grace. The problem with the system is that in saving divine sovereignty , Calvinism must also attribute the presence and operation of evil and sin to a divine souce. Any other understanding of the origin of evil would infringe on the majesty of God. Calvinism is additionally predicated on the acceptance of a fundamental Christian tenet that runs counter to my understanding of God’s otherness. I am referring here to the key Christian teaching that God humbled Himself to die on the cross for our sins. Although I concede that God could act in this way, given his infinite power and total freedom of action, it is hard for me to reconcile such a belief with His dignity. Perhaps at the end of the day I’m too much of an Old Testament Jew to accept this act of divine self-debasement as a ransom for our sins.
You’ve criticized Russell Kirk’s attempts to re-appropriate an aristocratic political culture which did not exist. Even assuming you are correct, are there ‘permanent things’ worth defending and advocating for in the present time? If so, what are they?
Note that my criticism of “value conservatism” and Kirk’s appeal to aristocratic Tory ideals is never used to justify value relativism. In fact I suggest several times in Conservatism in America that I am not a value relativist and that I am scornful of those who are inconsistent enough to embrace this self-description. I also make an attempt in this book to distinguish classical and biblical virtues from modern “political values” rooted in the changing preferences or fixations of journalists. For example, I can appreciate the attempts to approximate in our communal lives such qualities as justice, truth, piety and sobriety. But such approximations arise out of the practices and traditions of communities and out of philosophical reflection. They are not journalistic slogans or the hothouse creations of modern ideologues.
An interview with internet-based commentator Fabius Maximus.
(1) On your about page (and previously at Defense and the National Interest) it states that Fabius Maximus “was the Roman leader who saved Rome from Hannibal by recognizing its weakness, the need to conserve and regenerate. He turned from the easy path of macho ‘boldness’ to the long, difficult path to rebuilding Rome’s strength and greatness. His life holds profound lessons for 21st Century America.” However, there is no Hannibal at America’s borders. What is America’s greatest enemy at this moment?
If the American political regime fall, we will be responsible. The most serious threat lies within us. As an intangible threat, each person will explain this differently. I express this as our hubris and paranoia being the greatest threats. Looking at our actions, rather than our thought processes, our passivity is the greatest threat.
Note that the American political regime, based on the Constitution, is not America. I have faith even then we will pick up the pieces and try again.
For more about this see Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006.
(2) You have been asked on various occasions where you reside, what citizenship(s) you hold, what occupation or position you held, if any, within the US government or related organizations. Care to share anything with us?
Just that I am an American. Nothing else should matter.
The “About” pages explains why: About Fabius Maximus and this blog.
(3) You share with me the dubious distinction of raising the ire of the Small Wars Council. Why? What is it about you that irritates others? Or, assuming that you are correct, why don’t they ‘get it’?
The SWC and the FM websites both discuss things of great importance that are on the edge of the known – on the edge of what is knowable. Passions run high, which is a good thing in my book. Out of the hottest fires come the strongest metals.
The mainstream media serves to keep us dozing. Dampen our sense of wonder, our passions, and our attachment to what makes us what we are. And above all to keep us feeling mildly fearful and impotent. It provides a steady stream of trivia, carefully crafted to confirm the establishment’s worldview.
The alternate view is that we’re in a vast universe, standing in a small lit circle amidst mysteries. Fearful challenges lie I the dark, somewhere in which is our true future.
The problem is not finding material to write about (I have a file drawer stuffed with material), but finding the time to write. I try to focus on a small number of themes, focused on geopolitics.
(5) You call for a new humble grand strategy on the basis of respect for differing belief systems. Like Edward Luttwak, who said that great powers “see everything in forms of force and power, and not in term of knowledge,” you have mentioned the appalling lack of HUMINT among the US intelligence community. You have also advocated for an American foreign legion. Along these lines, what shifts in thinking and operation would be necessary to build an intelligent intelligence community and military? What would it take for them to come to pass?
Great question! The answer lies in structural reform on a scale difficult to even imagine happening. Our intel apparatus exists to confirm the view of senior leaders. So we have as analysts legions of well-educated academics. People who are (to over-generalize) not only incapable of understanding the fantastic events on the margins and in the depths of civilization, but incapable of forcing these insights on their superiors. On the other hand, their reports are neatly typed, politely expressed, with excellent spelling and grammar.
Military reform is simple — requiring a long, hot war, forcing us to develop an effective force. Or the military might find a great leader capable of forging a sharp weapon from DoD’s bureaucratic morass. The cures are worse than the disease.
I’m no fan of the dualisms on which most of modern thought rests (such as sacred and profane). Rousseau and above all Nietzsche attempted to move us beyond these dualisms, back to a more holistic view of humanity.
(6) You have criticized advocates of ‘Anthropogenic global warming’ as relying on inadequate or unproven science. Why, in your opinion, is global warming such a hot button issue for so many people?
It fills a need for many people. Following the decline of Christianity and Judaism as meaningful faiths for large sections of the public, something must fill the vacuum. To be marketable it should be compatible with our superstitions, easy to understand, and undemanding in its prescriptions. The green religion fits these requirements.
It fits the bastardized notions the general public has of science. Offers redemption without the necessity of substantially altering our behavior (i.e., how we treat our spouse, children, friends, coworkers, clients). Feeds our deeply held love for apocalyptic eschatology. And allows everyman to be in the chosen.
Like all good religions, once adopted it is immune to disproof. Hearing a heretic or infidel questioning the authorities (IPCC, the Pope) reveals only their ignorance. The obvious response is to read them a tract. It’s like telling a country priest during the dark ages that Jesus is not in the host. There is no place for debate.
For more about this see A note on the green religion, one of the growth industries in America, 17 March 2009.
(7) You have cited the Batman saga (http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/batman/, http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/alfred/) as an accurate description of our current predicament. Are there any other artistic works you feel are especially relevant to the present moment?
Yes. Our myths should be a source of insight and strengths in the coming days. In our age of an impoverished imagination, mythology has retreated to and concentrated in our comics. Some examples in addition to Batman:
Spiderman’s motto is a great lesson for a hegemonic power – “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The tagline of Full Metal Alchemist (slightly paraphrased) provides a powerful lesson for a society that wants to have it all, ideally for free:
“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To gain anything, something of equal value must be given. That is life’s First Law of Equivalent Exchange, and applies to thing tangible and intangible — matter, energy, and spirit.”
(8) You stated in 2006 that Israel appears to be on the road to disaster. Is there anything in the intervening time that would cause you to modify this view? Is there anything that Israelis can do to prevent this?
As Lawrence of Arabia said in the movie, “nothing is written.” Israel could radically change course by giving the West Bank back, starting a Marshall Plan-like effort to build it up, and attempting to forge an alliance with the Palestinians – who are among the most vital of the Middle East’s people, and in many ways so similar to the Jews. It might not be too late.
(9) You have commented that the American public is like sheep. What would they be doing if they weren’t so sheepish?
Just as we have always done when faced with a challenge. From the days before the Revolution, through the long anti-slavery campaigns, the “penny auction” and private relief efforts during the recession, and WWII (after which we lost our way). Organize, work together, and ignore the blandishments of those who seek to divide us for their own political advantage.
We all know what to do. We just lack the will.
Photo courtesy of David Ball.