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Auto-mo-bile in A-mer-i-ca! Chro-mi-um Steel in A-mer-ic-a!
Monday, August 7, 2017, 12:21 PM

Steven Sondheim made American Wealth Something to Sing About

Immanuel Kant imagined that even a society of devils driven by nothing but pure, rational self-interest would develop their own morality in order to keep the devils from stepping on each other’s toes.

But at the end of his essay The Impossibility of Secular Society, Remi Brague points out that far from being a harder case than humans, devils are easier.  Living forever, they have no need to put aside pure self-interest and raise children.

Writes Brague, “without new life, Kant’s [godless] peace won’t be perpetual.  And because his peace is perfect only if the players of the game see themselves and their lives in terms of their own rational self-interest, it’s not at all clear why they won’t cease to have children.  Indeed, many will say that it’s a positive duty not to reproduce.”

Eh, what need for “positive duty” not to reproduce?  While driving around Saturday morning and listening to a couple songs from West Side Story, I realized that Steven Sondheim figured it all out in America.  Given a choice between larger families or more wealth, Anita, the chorus, and the entire Western world has gone with the money.  (And these days, for all of Puerto Rico’s problems, Anita’s complaint “always the population growing”  isn’t one of them.)

But what a great song.  My heart almost bursts when Antia fans her arms and sings “Au-to-mo-bile” and “Chro-mi-um Steel.” But why? I guess it’s because growing up in the 70s and 80s I always heard this song as shouting back like nothing else at the godless, communist Soviet Union and its fellow travelers.  Sometimes I still do.  And I still love this song. But the story didn’t end there.

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Daniel Moody’s No Country for Old Men
Wednesday, May 31, 2017, 11:57 AM
Moss 300x155 Daniel Moodys No Country for Old Men

Worse is coming

Daniel Moody is an online friend of mine with whom I’ve maintained a correspondence for about ten years I’d guess.  Daniel is a brilliant man.  He lives in England and he’s long been trying to tell the world that it has reasoned itself into madness.

If that sounds like Daniel is just picking up the C.S. Lewis or Chesterton torch, the answer is yes and no.  I don’t think Daniel reads much.  Years ago, I sent Daniel something by C.S. Lewis and he responded saying “Stella Morabito keeps recommending C.S. Lewis to me but I would rather not read him, for the same reason I have never read 1984: other people have written about the theory of the ‘abolition of man’, whereas we are witnessing it in practice. I want to write about the practice.”

And that’s about right, I think.  Chesterton and C.S. Lewis were among the early 20th century writers to point out where things were headed.  Daniel Moody means to announce our arrival.  I’d like to think we’ve arrived because maybe that’d mean things won’t get much worse.

But worse is coming.  I’m reminded of an exchange in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men .  Sheriff Bell and his deputy stand surrounded in the desert by gun-rattled corpses:

The deputy says, “It’s a mess, aint it Sheriff?”
“If it aint,” Sheriff Bell responds, “it’ll do till the mess gets here.”

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Scientism, Ridicule, and Applause Lines
Friday, May 5, 2017, 10:00 AM

laugh12 226x300 Scientism, Ridicule, and Applause Lines

Interestingly, scientism is a word that is only used by those who oppose it. Why is that?

Since most people have never heard the word scientism, it might sound a bit overboard to call it the religion of our age. How can a word that relatively few people know, and its followers don’t use be the religion of our age?  But now ask yourself what percentage of Americans would nod their heads in agreement with the following statement:

It’s no one’s business but your own if you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist or whatever, but when it comes to things that effect everyone (education, politics, etc.) we should limit talk about what’s real to what all of us can agree is real.

That statement is creedal scientism (notice how it grants total authority to those who come closest to believing in nothing). And would anyone doubt that more Americans today (and nearly all Europeans) would comfortably nod their heads in agreement with that statement than could recite the Nicene Creed with sincerity?

Respond to the statement above with “prove it” and you’ll get a confused look (although it still might be worth trying). This is because it’s not a statement that opens itself to proof. It’s a resolution of the will, an emotional reaction, or an applause line for the Bill Maher show or The View. And it has nothing to do with reason or science.

And this is why followers of scientism never use the word scientism, let alone define it. The moment they name it they’re obliged to define their terms. And once they do that it withers away under any kind of reasoned debate. Why bother with any of that when all they really want is the applause?

And why do so many applaud? They applaud because the creed sounds reasonable without having to go to the trouble of reasoning anything through. And they applaud to signal that they’re with the smart guy and because applause is a nice way of ridiculing and shutting up those who aren’t.

Webster’s tells me that scientism is: “thought or expression regarded as characteristic of scientists.”  If someone can find scientism used this way in a published sentence, I’d like to see it.  French philosopher and poet Benjamin Fondane knew what he was talking about when he described it as “hatred for religious transcendence.”  Benjamin Fondane died at Auschwitz in 1944.

 



Picking Sides with Michael Allen Gillespie
Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 12:04 PM
choosing sides 300x232 Picking Sides with Michael Allen Gillespie

Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress LC-H234- A-8048.

Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity confounds an easy scoring of history.

I am reading Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity. It is one of those books where the more I read, the more embarrassed I am about what I thought I used to know.

I spend a lot of my free time trying to answer the question, “How did we get into this mess?” And by “this mess” I’m referring to culture and the trajectory of the West. I want to know who to blame for all this. I have formed mental lists of responsible parties, along with quick shorthands describing what they did, when they did it, and their contributions to the general screwup.

For many years, William of Ockham (1285-1347) and his philosophy of nominalism has been one of my prime suspects, thanks to the work of Richard Weaver. My shorthand for Ockham and Duns Scotus went like this: “They threw out Aristotle’s universals and said things are just what people call them and nothing more. Eventually, Ockham’s philosophical descendants tossed out the human soul because ‘soul’ was just another one of those universal forms.” This shorthand always served me well when I was in need of a quick answer. But no more, thanks to Gillespie.

The problem with my shorthand is that it makes William of Ockham and Duns Scotus sound like a couple of 20th-century college professors or Richard Rorty enthusiasts who traveled back in time to make a mess of things.

As Michael Allen Gillespie explains, Ockham was reacting to the Scholastics whom Ockham said had put philosophy above Scripture. Meanwhile, the Scholastics charged the Nominalists of making God the creator of evil.  I sympathize with both groups, and I’m not sure which heresy I would have gone to bat for at the time.

Regardless, it wasn’t until Francis Bacon came along in the 1500s that Nominalism started sounding anything remotely like my modern shorthand, but even Bacon wouldn’t know what to make of the world that now professes not to know the difference between a man and a woman.

I can’t help but read history identifying the good guys and the bad guys, and picking who is on my team. But it’s a vulgar mistake to mix men who worked from a common sense tradition in with moderns on both the left and the right who reject tradition outright. I like how Georges Sorel described his mission: to demolish “this superstructure of conventional lies and to destroy the prestige still accorded to the ‘metaphysics’ of the men who vulgarize the vulgarization of the eighteenth century.”

At this point in the game, we’re vulgarizing the vulgarization of the vulgarization of the eighteenth century.

(I still don’t want Ockham on my team though.)



The Myth of Progress
Monday, April 24, 2017, 8:09 PM

The myth of progress is a false myth that really,
really seems true.

Some years ago I escorted a delegation of business and government representatives from Thailand around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Lancaster is the heart of Amish country and is about 30 miles from my boyhood home.

I lived and traveled extensively in East Asia at a young age and parts of it I really did not like.  I was a young and fairly materialistic American, unhappy at times with what was too much materialism, even for me.

And yet, every member of the delegation I escorted through Lancaster County that day expressed a fond appreciation of the Amish.  They surmised that their lack of technical progress had rendered them a happier community. Nearly everyone over the age of 25 gets that sense of things when driving through Amish County.

Despite how apparent this seems to most Amish country tourists, nearly all of us moderns still cling to the myth of progress. We look back and thank our lucky stars that we have modern medicine, washing machines (imagine no washing machines!), and the internet.  But modern appliances have little to do with the myth of progress.  I’m inclined to think that confusing this technical progress with the myth of progress is our most deadly modern confusion.

Middlesex school The Myth of Progress

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Gottscho-Schleisner Collection [reproduction number, e.g., LC-G612-T-45094]

Whittaker Chambers used to lump Soviet communism, German Nazism, British socialism, New Dealism, Spanish Falangism, etc. together under one banner: communism.   Seen this way, communism is simply man’s belief that he can set the world straight.

It took me a good bit of reading to get my head around how progress created such problems. And I’m not alone in my slow learning.  In The Funeral of a Great Myth, C.S. Lewis pointed out that we couldn’t even conduct a single political campaign without the myth. Both sides must promise “a better future.” And not satisfied selling mere appliances (which is all they are selling), the denizens of Silicon Valley couldn’t get out of bed in the morning without a strong faith in this false myth.  Some are taking it to the wildest of extremes.

For a quick introduction to the myth of progress, you could do no better than the essay The Funeral of a Great Myth in the C.S. Lewis Essay Collection. Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce has some lectures discussing the myth in The Crisis of Modernity. Georges Sorel jumps in deep with his masterpiece The Illusions of Progress (1908), as did Christoper Lasch in The True and Only Heaven (1991).



Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe says legal abortions after 20 weeks are what’s best for business.
Tuesday, January 3, 2017, 5:03 PM

Archaeological discoveries showing that the Carthaginians sacrificed their children to the gods of commerce often stir up a ruckus because, otherwise, it’s hard to look at the technological and commercial power of Carthage and not see ourselves mirrored back from antiquity.Moloch eats his young1 Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe says legal abortions after 20 weeks are whats best for business.

Except there’s nothing “otherwise” about it. Today, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vowed to veto a bill banning abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Why the veto threat? Gov. McAuliffe didn’t even mention the usual shibboleths about the health of the mother or privacy. No, the Democratic Party is much more forthright about things these days.

Gov. McAuliffe said that banning late-term abortions might be bad for business in Virginia, and “If there’s something that would be damaging toward business, and to our image around the country and the globe, I’ll veto it, you bet I will.”

Only men digging in its deep foundation centuries after found a heap of hundreds of little skeletons, the holy relics of that religion.  For Carthage fell because she was faithful to her own philosophy and had followed out to its logical conclusion her own vision of the universe. Moloch had eaten his children.

– G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man.



Two Democrats Looking into the Future…
Wednesday, October 19, 2016, 4:16 PM

I was browsing my electronic commonplace book last week, reading a mix of quotes I’ve saved on technocracy when I came across the following excerpt from a 2013 Touchstone feature story by Anthony Esolen, Faith Against Faith :

Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty, just when a young official in his employ, Daniel Moynihan, was warning that out-of-wedlock births among blacks had crossed into the danger zone and was threatening the very existence of genuine community. For that brief time, Johnson and Moynihan were at cross-purposes. It doesn’t matter what the men were aware of doing. Johnson bowed to the materialist vision; he wished to use the power of a technocratic state to fix a problem viewed in technocratic terms. Moynihan was trying to peer into the human heart. The one looked confidently toward the future. The other worried that something essential from the past was being lost.

To this quote, I had attached a little note to myself that said “Know how to use this, and when” (I patted myself on the back for this piece of sound advice).  Last night I happened to be in the company of some people discussing some current social policy questions, all of them taking what would qualify as the Lyndon Johnson approach.  I was able to recall the words above almost verbatim, which was, I have to say, a lot of fun.

 

 

 



Brexit: NICE doesn’t play nice
Tuesday, June 28, 2016, 12:35 PM

To Be or Not to Be small1 Brexit: NICE doesnt play nice

The Guardian and British politicians move against the statistics before statistics could meaningfully exist.  NICE doesn’t play nice.

Hilarious.  That’s one word for it anyway.  Horror is another.  Brexit was…what?  Last Thursday?  Just this morning I received a blast email from the Guardian newspaper using that modern-day equivalent of “Thus says the Lord”—i.e. “studies show” or in the Guardian’s case it appears as “reported spike”— to say that there’s been a statistical leap in “hate crimes” because of the Brexit referendum, and that Parliament acted on those data points yesterday:

The British parliament has condemned a reported spike in hate crimes and abuse after EU referendum.

I assume it takes Parliament the better part of a day to write up a formal condemnation and then vote on it.  And I further assume that these “studies” or “reported spikes” take a day or so to write up as well.  And before that you have to appropriate some funding for your study to pay the people who do the work, and the printing and all of that.  And before that you have to come up with the idea of your study, a question you wish to explore.  And before that you need some time to collect the data.  And before any of that can happen you need some passage of time for the data points to actually appear.  Being government bureaucrats they likely didn’t work on this through the weekend, and since Parliament responded to all this yesterday that means that all the above occurred between the hours of 8AM and 5PM last Friday.  (The same Guardian story also connects the dots between the Brexit vote and Britain’s loss to Iceland in the Euro 2016 soccer matchup.)

​London’s Mayor Sadiq “All Moderate Muslims are Uncle Toms” Kahn is really on the case.  Before the “reported spike in hate crimes” even hit the streets he put London police on alert for the upcoming spike, which low-and-behold occurred hours after the British voted for self-rule, just like he said they would!  Well whaddya know.

In what I consider to be the most brilliantly conceived part of C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, the protagonist, Mark Studdock, a young academic in the sociology department has left his university position to take a job working for the equivalent of Google (the National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments, or N.I.C.E in Lewis’ rendition), which has purchased a parcel of land at the university to setup its lab.  The NICE has also setup its own police force to protect its interests at the university.

For Mark’s first real job assignment at NICE (he spends the first few weeks just trying to find out what his job is), he’s asked to write an editorial for the Guardian/Telegraph (and another for the tabloids) explaining exactly what happened during the riots where the NICE police ended up shooting a lot of people.  The thing is, Kahn-like, the riots hadn’t yet even occurred when Mark finished writing his editorials.

All of which is to say, get used to it Brexit voters. NICE doesn’t play nice.  And self-rule won’t be won with a single vote anymore than the American Revolution ended with the signing of the Declaration of Independence (yes, Jon Oliver, I do know who we our declared independence from).  Your opponents will spend every waking moment looking for a way to ruin your life.  You’ll be framed as Mississippi Burning style segregationists, you’ll be laughed at daily for your apparent stupidity, you’ll be blamed for everything that goes wrong from job losses to soccer matches.  And it will go on until you’re dead or until you join the other side.  My advice: stand firm and call them out.

P.S. The photo above is a scene from Ernst Lubitsch’s comedy “To Be or Not to Be” starring Carole Lombard and Jack Benny.  I haven’t seen the film, but as I was writing this post, the photo kept coming to mind.



LGBT Month Question: What is the virtue of Fallon Fox?
Thursday, June 9, 2016, 11:27 AM

Fallon Fox LGBT Month Question: What is the virtue of Fallon Fox?

Are we honestly celebrating the “virtue” of Fallon Fox–a man who beats women unconscious?

Save this picture and send it around.  The name of the man in this picture is Fallon Fox, who America is now celebrating during LGBT Month for his “skills” at beating women unconscious.  And believe it or not, there is only a small window of opportunity for you to remind others that a man beating up a woman is not a virtue, but a vice.  Alexander Pope described the small opportunity window this way:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

I’d say there’s about an inch of space left open in that window before moving from endure to embrace.  I have had some friends tell me that I’m mistaken; that the progressives have gone too far this time.  Everybody knows that men shouldn’t beat up women or follow girls into restrooms, they say, and that all this transgender business will finally turn the moral tide.  It’s an odd assertion during our government-sanctioned LGBT Month when both of America’s presidential candidates have already come out in support of President Obama’s position on transgenderism

And yet it seems like my disbelieving friends might be right this time except that they said the same thing when they first heard talk of the government redefining marriage.  Now even some of them are fine with that.

Let’s face it, we live in an age where shoulders shrug when children are aborted because the mother would rather not shop at Costco, and our medical journals discuss the ethics of “post-birth abortions.”  We live in an age where people think suicide is wrong, but it’s okay so long as there’s a doctor around when you do it.  We don’t think a man should take a group of girls on an overnight camping trips, but somehow it’s now immoral to even suggest that a gay man shouldn’t do the same thing with a group of teen and pre-teen boys.  Suddenly we are cool with all that now.

G.K. Chesterton had a warning for those of us who pride ourselves on being oh so au courant:

Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which your are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. … It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal and that you are a paralytic.

So maybe—maybe—there’s still some time left to talk sense to people who don’t notice themselves drifting into paralysis while lying on their couches. Just maybe there’s still some time left to persuade a few souls that it’s wrong for a man to beat a woman unconscious.  Maybe.



“Are You Kidding?”
Saturday, May 7, 2016, 9:16 AM

a8036ffe 0572 11e5  915100c Are You Kidding?In the current issue of Touchstone Richard Weikart has a review of Paul Kengor’s latest book, Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left has Sabotaged Family and Marriage.

Before reading this review this past week, I had an unsettling lunch with a friend who told me he looked forward to moving beyond the whole marriage redefinition nonsense (he called it “gay marriage”), now that both presumptive presidential nominees are all for it.  My friend said he’s against it, “of course, of course!” but enough already, huh? 

This is an optimistic man.  He loves talking about the vitality of American grit, and how our best days are still ahead of us.  He gets most angry talking about what he sees as the contained economic collapse of our miserable state of Illinois.  Everything bad in the country today is contained, in his eyes.  As I said, this is an optimistic man, and a depressing conversationalist.

I bring this up because Richard Weikart quotes from Mr. Kengor’s introduction where he writes:

Readers will wonder if I am looking to halt the redefinition and transformation, if am endeavoring to help change the mind of American culture on gay marriage with this book, to which I respond: Are you kidding?…Nothing short of a major religious revival will save [America].

That quote appears in the second paragraph of the review, and after reading it I set the magazine down on my breakfast table and turned to my computer to order Mr. Kengor’s book.  It’s weird what lifts my spirits these days.


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