Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fault Lines.

One of the great projects that needs to be tackled by the conservative movement is a thoroughgoing analysis of the movement's failure in the 20th Century. Many conservatives can point to the errors of liberalism with ease, but what many conservatives don't really tackle the subject of the Liberalism's appeal. The question to ask then is, why did Liberalism succeed? Indeed, its success has been so thorough that many of today's "Conservatives" would hardly of been considered conservatives by the Generation of 1880 at all. Chastity, which was part and parcel of bourgeoisie society, is now seen as a bit of an embarrassment. Divorce, which was seen negatively even in Victorian England, is a non-event. Mainstream conservatives seem to differ from liberals mainly on issues with regard to economic management and defense, otherwise they look remarkably similar. Part of the problem when voting now is that the mainstream parties are so alike that a voter has no real choice.

Every great heresy has some element of the truth in it, and it is my contention that Liberalism's success came about as a result from an exploitation of legitimate grievances in traditional society, grievances which conservatives would not, or intellectually not could address. These legitimate grievances were what I consider "weak points" in western society, areas of entrenched "structural" social injustice from which Liberalism earned its legitimacy.

Any reading of political history will show that a society's failure to deal with legitimate grievances, eventually leads to a radicalisation of the injured party. The Irish attempted for years to rid themselves of the British yoke through legitimate means, only to have the rules changed on them. The Irish civil war owed its birth as much to British intransigence as it did to Irish nationalism which was fueled by the former. The Czech and Slovak republic's separation was peaceful since the players were prepared to deal with each others grievances honourably, the Yugoslav separation was not, because the central government refused to ceded to the legitimate demands of the constituent republics. The problem with radicalisation though, is that the cause frequently attempts to do more than just right an injustice, it brings a whole new set of faults as well, faults which frequently are worse than the original injury.

The question then to ask is, what were these weak spots or fault lines?

In my view the main weak spots were:

1) The misunderstanding of women in society: This gave birth to Feminism.
2) The misunderstanding of relationship between capital and labor: This gave birth to Socialism.
3) The misunderstanding of race understanding of Race: This gave birth to Multiculturalism.
4) The misunderstanding of sexuality: This gave birth to modern promiscuity and familial destruction.
5) The misunderstanding of environmental responsibility: This gave birth to the environmental movement.
6) The misunderstanding of society privilege: This gave birth to egalitarianism.

There are other areas but these are the main ones that I can identify, and I hope to deal with these issues over the next few months and offer my thoughts as to where conservatism went wrong. The problem however is that many traditionalists can't even fathom that there was any problem with traditional society. They ignore the slums, the slavery, the economic and social injustice that were endemic to traditional society and that served as the wellsprings of radicalism.

Lately I've been following two discussions; one at Oz Conservative and another at Ferdinand's, both posts and their comments leave me cold. I for one, feel that women had legitimate grievances with traditional society, problems which conservatives failed to acknowledge or address, leaving the door open to Feminism and its poison. The question is what can we learn from this, or could things have been handled differently?


Keoni Galt said...

The question then to ask is, what were these weak spots or fault lines?

I think you missed the biggest one of all - those that sought to exploit all these weaknesses or fault lines you mentioned, seized control of the mass media, and incrementally and gradually shaped public opinion and mainstream consciousness to view conservative values as "old-fashioned" and "prudish" while selling liberal ideology as "cool" and "hip."

Such radical social engineering would simply have not been possible without the television and movies becoming such a prominent part of shaping public consciousness.

Will S. said...

Was it that there necessarily was some specific problem with society's understanding of what the place of women in society ought to be? Or was it simply the natural outworking of the liberalization of society in general? Novaseeker once made a comment which I think is pertinent:

It was, however, inevitable that women would seek to expand their power into the public and political realms once that power got devolved more broadly among men themselves. That is, as the society became more male egalitarian (as compared with the 18th century European hierarchies from whence the colonists came), it was only a matter of time until women demanded the same status as the newly “emancipated” men. The reason for that is that at the same time the fundamental unit of society was being moved from that of the family to that of the individual. That is the overarching trend of the last 200 or so years — a growing emphasis on the individual as such and not as a part of a collective, including a family. As that trend continued to build steam, it was inevitable that women would not be “satisfied” with being a part of the family collective, and would demand their own share in individual rights. That means that feminism, at least in its mildest form, was largely inevitable once the focus in society shifted to individual rights.

There was a bit of blindsiding going on, or at least unintended consequences. The philosophers who laid the foundation for the growth of individual rights in the 17th and 18th centuries did not have in mind anything like feminism — to them, it went without saying that these ideas would apply to men, and not to women, and would not upend and replace family life. But as the ideas gained momentum in the 19th Century in particular, that changed, and people like Mill realized that the logic of individual rights, unless stopped, required the liberation of women. There was no *logical* reason to exclude women from this, again once the ideas gained a certain momentum in the popular and political cultures — all that was left was tradition, and tradition was largely going by the wayside in a number of areas.

This is why I think the theorists who suggest that the liberation of women is inevitable in advanced societies are onto something. The basic idea is that once a society is economically advanced enough such that the economic (and to a lesser degree political) spoils start to become more equally distributed among the men (rather than being hogged at the top), there develops very quickly a strong pressure to also make these available to the women. In other words, in a system where only a small % of men are monopolizing economic and political power, it’s a minor thing that most women are excluded from this, because most men are as well. However, when the male side of the ledger starts to become more egalitarian looking, pressures develop for this also to include women. This happened in both Babylon and Rome, in the later phases of these civilizations. And it has happened in the contemporary West. It does not appear capable of being stopped, once a civilization reaches a certain degree of advancement and some level of egalitarianism, however imperfect.

Hestia said...

This is a very interesting piece, SP and reminds me a bit of a Chesterton quote:

"The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected."

I do not posses adequate understanding of political history, nor the life experience necessary to add anything more to the discussion, but look forward to reading what others contribute.

The Social Pathologist said...


No doubt, the media has been the instrument through which they have effected the change, however the media itself is morally neutral. The Leftists quickly recognised its power and sought control, they sought control of the universities as well, poisoning whole generations of professionals. My interest here is not how they effected the change(that's stuff for a later post) but what earned the leftists legitimacy.

Will S:
Or was it simply the natural outworking of the liberalization of society in general?

Good point. I do think there is an element of truth to this, but perhaps the real mechanism that effects this recognition of womens rights might be the fact that once the business of brute survival is dealth with, a state of affairs that relies on primitive strength and military virtue, it's a woman's proper role to assume a more active role in society. Got to run now.

Novaseeker said...

It has more to do with underlying philosophical trends, I think, than anything else.

Liberalism in its current state was more or less inevitable once the Enlightenment really got going. It's the logical conclusion of the Enlightenment ideas -- the primacy (now in a totalitarian sense) of reason, the primacy of the individual, the discourse about individual rights and so on. These core ideas are simply being taken to their logical conclusion in today's liberal Western societies.

Conservatives lost the fight a few centuries ago when they failed to come up with an adequate response to the Enlightenment and its values. To a certain extent they can be forgiven for that failing, because the seeds of the Enlightenment itself were well and truly sown by the Reformation's radical rejection of authority -- something which a good many "conservatives" at the time bought into, despite it being a deeply unconservative idea. But in any case conservatives never really came up with an adequate response to the Enlightenment other than to resist changes being demanded by followers of Enlightenment values. As a result, the Enlightenment and its values became the main authors of history for the past few centuries.

As I read your post, what I see there is that you think that conservatives could have influenced society in these areas away from more radical changes if they had accommodated themselves to various aspects of the Enlightenment project (e.g., the liberation of women) more than they did. The argument being that if conservatives had addressed the "legitimate grievances" of various groups more directly, radicalization could have been avoided. It's an interesting idea, but I have to say I don't find it terribly convincing. The reason I don't is that the Enlightenment project has its own logic and its own raison d'etre. The liberation of women was inevitable once the Enlightenment values became predominant, and essentially everything feminism has become follows more or less logically and directly from the application of Enlightenment values to women. Conservatives may have been able to slow things down here or there (largely the political strategy that they have taken during the period), but the main storyline would have been more or less the same as what we have seen: liberation of women from men, from sexual mores, from social limitations and so on.

Novaseeker said...

Continuing ...

The underlying "logic" of the Enlightenment is that the supreme value is individual autonomy and freedom. Anything that is a barrier to that will be attacked, eventually, by liberalism in an effort to dismantle it. The list of things that need attacking is long, because in order for most people to have equal levels of freedom, you need to flatten down social structures across the board -- economic, sex-based, race-based and so on. Again this is seen from the perspective of augmenting freedom -- a rich person, in this view, has more "freedom" than a poorer one does because their autonomic space of action is greater, due to their wealth. Liberalism abhors this inequality, because it means some are more "free" than others, and so it goes about examining what the causes are for these inequalities in terms of accessing freedom, and then sets about dismantling them, flattening them, and setting them aside, with the goal being to have more or less equal access to autonomic freedom for all persons.

Seen in that light, all of the social changes propagated in the last century were inevitable once the Enlightenment's ideas became dominant. The changes are only "radical" when viewed from a perspective that is skeptical of the Enlightenment. From the perspective of the Enlightenment itself, the changes were *not* radical, but were the logical outgrowth of its own value system. The fight here was lost by conservatives not in the 20th century by failing to address the issues you mention, because the result was foreordained anyway. The fight was lost back in the day of Descartes and Voltaire, and it's been a straight run for liberal/Enlightenment values ever since.

The tide is turning, of course, because on the philosophical level the Enlightenment is running out of gas. Post-structuralism, post-modernism and the like offer no easily packagable "narrative" which can be used to foist social changes -- the rhetoric of meaninglessness, difference and violence and so on is just not appealing in the way that the rhetoric of individual rights and freedoms was. So change is coming. There is an opportunity for conservatives, now, to strike back in the philosophical arena, because the left's philosophers are now in a state, generally speaking, where the emperor has no clothes. They are weak now, and their message is weak. It is the time to strike -- first in philosophy, and then, when that fight is well and truly joined, in the broader society.

And that fight is being joined, in fits and starts, already. And I suppose we ought not be surprised that the attack is being led by theologians, in many ways. The new "Radical Orthodoxy" movement (nothing to do with Eastern Orthodoxy .. it's an Anglican movement mostly) is one example of this, but there are numerous others as well where theologians and philosophers are taking the opportunity to strike back at the left because its philosophical basis is no longer solvent. It's weak right now, and now is the time to strike back.

The Social Pathologist said...


Thanks for the very considered reply. I've got to rush off to work now but will hopefully give you a more considered reply later in the afternoon.

The Social Pathologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Social Pathologist said...


Conservatives lost the fight a few centuries ago when they failed to come up with an adequate response to the Enlightenment and its values.

It's my opinion Conservatives lost the fight when they stopped thinking and started relying on the thinking of dead men (i.e tradition).

I actually think that the Enlightenment was inevitable because of the incorporation of Aristotle into Christian thought; the implicit assertion of the validity of reason by this phenomena posed a direct challenge to Authority which conflicted with it. Somewhere or another, I remember Aquinas saying that where fact and authority contradict, one of them is wrong. However what Aquinas also said, since the faith was divinely inspired and therefore inerrant, a man's understanding of the faith was probably wrong where it contradicted with the empirical fact.

The battle against authority was not necessarily a bad thing. For authority is not an end in itself but derives its legitimacy from some 'truth" that the authority possess. Galileo's legitimacy came about from speaking truth to a power which was errant with regard to Astronomy. Had Galileo asserted that the moon was made of cheese or that the Earth orbited it, the Church's authority would be legitimate. However since the Chruch's administration was using its perceived authority as an instrument with which to censor the truth, it's authority became illegitimate.

Conservatives need to realise that authority, just like reason, has its limits and once it passes those, it ceases to be legitimate.

Viewed in this light, the Enlightenment was not a battle against authority but falsehood, which I think is a good thing. The problem though with the more radical aspects of the Enlightenment is that threw out the baby with the bathwater. It ceased to see reason as an instrument to persue the truth, in fact it denied the existence of a truth at all, rather it saw no limits on reason a felt that reason was all that a man needed. I think this is why quantum mechanics and Godel unsettled them so greatly. Here was scientific proof that that there were true things that reason could not prove: The brain could not comprehend the whole universe.

The liberation of women was inevitable once the Enlightenment values became predominant, and essentially everything feminism has become follows more or less logically and directly from the application of Enlightenment values to women.

I'd have to disagree with you here. Feminism wasn't originally a rejection of authority, rather an assertion of the right to participate in public life, something which I feel was eminently reasonable, given that many of the advocates were more intelligent than the average drone who was their traditional superior. The fact that the movement was captured by radical elements who co-opted it into the socialist project with its errors of logic and false metaphysics does not deny the legitimacy of their original grievances. The fundamental question to ask here is a woman, by virtue of her sex, not permitted to participate in public and professional life? If not Why? If they can, then what's the problem?
The fact is that modern feminism isn't about equality, its about sexual indistinguishability, Feminism seeks equality through the abolition of gender. This is a different project to the original feminist aims.

The inability to define "Conservatism" is a philosophical problem. Which needs to be tackled philosophically. Traditionalist,authoritarians, reactionary's and aesthetes are all called conservatives yet many are not. The fundamental issue of conservatism is to establish a beachhead of core principles from which it can attack modernity without repeating the errors of the past and to prune the conservative tree of its dead wood. This is why I keep harping on with regard to the importance of metaphysics. The Conservative bends his knee to the truth; the Liberal, to his own image.