Archive for the ‘History’ Category.

Modernity, Scientism, and the ‘Sexual Revolution’

[O]ur current crisis is fundamentally metaphysical in nature. Modernity is a grand project of negation: the very order of being – as classically understood – has been shunned for theories that emphasize right praxis in time; history has become the lens through which things are assigned value. Fulfillment “lies in front of us, not above us,” and whoever speaks of eternal metaphysical truths is branded a reactionary.

. . .

[Augusto Del Noce] regards the “eclipse of authority” characteristic of our age as the greatest reversal ever to have befallen humanity. Authority, at root, means to make something grow, but today it’s understood mainly as a form of repression – indeed as something that impedes growth. The wholesale spurning of authority has only ushered in a mad dash for power – a dreadful substitution.

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We moderns are allowed only one source of real knowledge – science – and so the void caused by the ban on metaphysics has been filled with a scientism. Del Noce asserts that such scientism is based upon hatred for religious transcendence. Intrinsically totalitarian, scientism is “an unproven radical negation of traditional values” and so must rely upon subjugating the will of its adversaries (since it cannot prevail by reason), and upon confining them in “moral ghettos.”

And scientism’s “point of arrival,” he explains at length, is none other than the sexual revolution. To cut a long story short, here’s how you know if you are on the wrong side of history: it’s no longer a question of class warfare (bourgeoisie versus proletariat) but whether or not you are prepared to wage war upon sexual “repression.” History is the judge, Marx once said, and the proletariat its executioner. That role has now shifted to progressives urging the “repressed of the world” to unite.

The social institution most culpable of transmitting repressive morality is, of course, the traditional monogamous family, and as Del Noce notices, “sexual liberation is not desired per se, but rather as a tool to break down the family.”

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A century ago both Mussolini and Gramsci spoke of “socialism as the ‘religion destined to kill Christianity’.” But it later became apparent that total revolution could only be achieved if Marxist revolution became sexual revolution. Or as the Surrealists recognized: “the decisive battle against Christianity could be fought only at the level of the sexual revolution.” In sum, the “erotic offensive” amounts to a “campaign of de-Christianization.”

Del Noce wouldn’t be shocked with the onset of the transgender phenomenon and the current mania for “self identifying” as something other – anything other (gender, race, species) – than what one is. It’s all part of what he saw as the secularization of Gnosticism (rather than of Christianity), whereby it is the self that creates, and freedom consists of negating “the given.” Add a touch of the Hegelian “elimination of the Divine image” and voila: you get the quest for liberation through the disintegration of every form of order, what he called the “great refusal” of 1968.

Given his diagnosis, it comes as no surprise that he doesn’t put much stock in political solutions to the real dangers we are facing.

Modernity as Metaphysical Collapse

Ozymandias

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The Ruling Class, Politicians

Maybe one needs to be sick to run for office. [Anthony] Weiner is a disciple of New York senator Chuck Schumer.

Schumer famously said, “I was born to legislate.” This goes to the heart of the political sickness—the need to tell others how to live. As economist Walter Williams puts it, “I respect ordinary thieves more than I respect politicians. Ordinary thieves take my money without pretense. (They don’t) insult my intelligence by proclaiming that they’ll use the money that they steal from me to make my life better.”

In the next weeks, as cameras record every utterance burped up by politicians at the political conventions, I’ll take comfort knowing that when politicians can’t force us to do things, people often ignore them (remember, government is force; this is why politicians are important, and dangerous).

Ignoring Politicians

Ozymandias

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Pagans and Christians

Homosexuality, abortion and infanticide, recreational sex, no-fault divorce; gladiators, priestesses; mass public entertainment; public works and conscription of all kinds – the old pagan world had many parallels to our modern, neo-pagan one. The early Christians were recognizably “counter-cultural,” or “pro-life.” But to a Roman citizen, of some sophistication, what business had Christians with the way people live? They were otherworldly, it shouldn’t concern them.

And if they were so pro-life, why so eager to get themselves martyred? Just asking for it, often as not, when their humane prosecutors were trying to give them an out. Clearly these were fanatics, crazy people. Leave them to their foibles and their cult will soon fade.
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The world we face today is not like Greece and Rome. It is much more like the ancient East: a swamp in which reason finds little purchase. In order to evangelize, we must forego leaps. We must not assume premisses shared by all men of reason and good will. We must start with the very premisses.

Where Does One Start?

See also Islam and the Decalogue:

I first noticed something unusual about Islam during the 1980s when I was doing research for my book, Ethics in Context. I devoted one section of the book to the “Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule, in its negative or positive formulations, is incorporated not only in Christianity (Matt. 7:12), where Jesus declares it is a summary of “the law and the prophets,” but also in other major religions. For example, in Judaism, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”; in Hinduism, “Let no man do to another that which would be repugnant to himself”; in Buddhism, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”; in Confucianism, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do unto others.”

I took this as evidence of the relative universality of rational ethical principles in the world. But in Islam, I could find nothing of the sort, rather just the opposite – a reverse Golden Rule, so to speak: “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Be merciful to one another, but ruthless to the unbelievers” (Qur’an 48:29); “Never take unbelievers for friends” (3:28). Furthermore, the commands in the Qur’an to slay the unbelievers wherever they find them (2:191), not befriend them (3:28), fight them and show them harshness (9:123), and smite their heads (47:4) – accentuate distance from the Golden Rule.

So I decided at that time just to omit any reference to Islam in that chapter. As I have discovered in further researches, however, the ethical/religious problems within Islam are even more serious. Just as Islam teaches the reverse of the Golden Rule, it teaches the reverse of the last seven of the Ten Commandments, which have to do with morality:

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Liberty

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Declaration of Independence

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Titles of Nobility

The Title of Nobility Clause is a provision in Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution that forbids the United States from granting titles of nobility and also restricts members of the government from receiving gifts from foreign states without the consent of the United States Congress.

“What do you do?” may be the No. 1 question asked in[side] the Beltway. It achieves two things: It gives the asker the opportunity to brag about their own job title and lets them know whether the person they’re talking to is worth their time.

Job titles and associations are the lifeblood of D.C. You’re no one unless you have a title, whether it’s “congressman,” “ambassador,” “chief of staff,” or an impressive title at a firm or media company. Unlike most jobholders in America, poli­ticians in D.C. get to keep their titles for life. Think about it: You can be the CEO or vice president of the largest corpora­tion in America, but once you leave that job, so goes the title. In Washington, D.C., you can have the title of “president,” “congressperson,” or “senator,” and that is your title for life. It doesn’t matter if you were a terrible congressperson who served only one term; you will forever be referred to and in­troduced as a “congressperson.”

It’s bizarre perks of D.C. power such as this that draw thou­sands of young, type-A recent college grads to Washington — out of a desire not to serve our country but to get a title. And if you don’t have a title, good luck getting someone to talk to you for longer than two minutes. Washington is a town ob­sessed with titles and where being an obnoxious blowhard is socially acceptable. But it wasn’t always like this, and it’s cer­tainly not what our Founding Fathers envisioned.

A Country Steeped in Humility

obnoxious blowhards and Ozymandias.

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Happy Warriors!

The idea of electing comedians and comedy teams to office is very attractive to the Italian national character. I have praised them for this before. It shows a maturity of understanding rare in the annals of modern democracy. Given the omnipresence today of po-faced progressive parties, the alternative cannot be po-faced “conservatives,” whom the po-faced Leftist media will methodically smear and slander, as for instance in Canada and USA. They accept that verdict, and agree to lose. Rather one needs people with a sense of humour and no political past. I suppose this is the argument for Trump; though I would argue that he takes himself quite seriously, and doesn’t see the joke at all.

For vulgarity is not the same thing as humour. It is a dimension of comedy, but the full commedia dell-arte requires more. It must be spontaneous on several theatrical levels to occasion real surprise, and catch the po-faced off their leaden balance. It requires masks and good costumage. It requires stock gli immorati, ridiculously in love as much with themselves as with their sweethearts; fine silk dresses or alternatively the patched clothing of an impudent Colombina, with her weaponized tambourine. It requires confusions of identity, in the spirit of old Terence, and Plautus. It needs fantesche and servette (maids and serving wenches); Smerildas, Nespolas, Diamantinas.

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Plus, men who make jokes that are genuinely funny, such as some untranslatable remark Beppe Grillo tried the other day about the new Muslim mayor of London, which made all the po-faced heads explode. He has been called, repeatedly, “the most dangerous man in Europe,” for his ability to attract audiences, and make them laugh, despite being banned from Italian state television and so forth. He does not run himself, but is content with his position as backstage producer, out of his conviction that criminals should not aspire to political office. (Almost everyone in the Italian Parliament has a criminal record, many in the first degree.)

Among his most dangerous notions is that citizens should be permitted free speech, and that the power of politicians should be curtailed. This goes considerably beyond the “Brexit” position, that British politicians should be re-empowered at the expense of European ones.

Five stars

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Something has gone awry….

Did you ever wake up in the morning and wonder just what has gone wrong?

Yes, I know. The water runs clearly, friendly faces chat about good news, pills slaughter your germs, back seats bulge with mall loot, and chocolate-chip bagels are but a few steps away.

Isn’t it the best of all possible worlds? You’d rather be a sixth-century Visigoth or an Aztec virgin preparing for her sacrificial duty, maybe?

But there it is, nonetheless, tugging at what some still suggest is your soul. A suspicion that something has gone awry, that in this age of the fit, the prosperous, and the wired, someone has neglected to tell you something important.

And the science—oh, that science. It prolongs your life, brings wonders into your home and explains everything that mystified those impoverished ancients. Everything, that is, except for one thing, as writer Walker Percy puts it:

“How indeed is one to live in this peculiar time and history and on ordinary Wednesday afternoons?”

Yes, you suspect, there is something wrong, for there are those moments when you realize that modern life, culture, and knowledge have left you without something most fundamental: a satisfying understanding of just who you are and why you are here, in this place, watching the sun put one more day of your life in the past. You must be more than a mere organism or an insatiable, endlessly manipulable consumer.

. . .

Percy’s targets are the shallow pursuits of contemporary life that entertain us into a state of mass misery, and those who seek to raise us from the despair: pop religionists who treat us as irrational, unembodied spirits, scientists and theoreticians who diagnose our ills in purely physical terms, and social planners who would solve human problems by eliminating human beings—the last being the particular subject of The Thanatos Syndrome, a book that I saw for the first time stacked on a display table at a National Right to Life Convention.

The battles Percy describes are fierce, comic, frightening, and, one can’t help reflecting, prophetic. Something has gone very wrong, as we all admit when we are honest about what we see. We seem, simply put, to have forgotten who we are and why we were put here. It is time to let the ghosts take care of themselves and embark on the pilgrimage. We can thank Walker Percy, who left a challenging, fascinating body of work behind him when he passed away on May 10, 1990, for heroically diagnosing our ills and suggesting, however elliptically, a cure.

Walker Percy at 100

Desire for comfort is also connected to the global addiction to abortion and growing attraction to euthanasia. [Cardinal Robert] Sarah learned something different:

“I learned from my parents how to give. We were accustomed to receiving visitors, which impressed on me the importance of welcoming and generosity. For my parents, and all the inhabitants of my village, receiving others as guests implied that we were seeking to make them happy. Familial harmony can be the reflection of the harmony of heaven.”

Family values may be also perverted into a false tribalism, he says. But the absence of close ties may be the broadest horror today because it goes to our roots as persons: “The battle to preserve the roots of mankind is perhaps the greatest challenge that our world has faced since its origins.”

The Dictatorship of Horror

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Boarding Houses

During America’s century-long ascent from sleepy colonial backwater to great industrial giant, the urbanization of the country was funneled through a consistent apparatus: the boarding house.

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Cities should move to relax their rules against boarding and SROs, so that the transient might again have grounding stepping stones, and the insolvent might once more be able to obtain footholds. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood was once, not coincidentally, home to both the lowest homeless population and highest SRO concentration in the area.

The Boarding Houses that Built America

Nowadays, in the Northwest as across North America, most people live in houses or apartments that they own or rent. But not so long ago, other, less-expensive choices were just as common: renting space in a family’s home, for example, or living in a residential hotel.

Rooming houses, with small private bedrooms and shared bathrooms down the hall, were particularly numerous. This affordable, efficient form of basic housing is overdue for a revival, but legal barriers stand in the way. This article recounts the forgotten history of low-rent dwellings. Subsequent articles will detail how to re-legalize these forms of housing.

Rooming Houses: History’s Affordable Quarters: An in-city room of one’s own.

Today the notion of the boardinghouse—a “big house full of strangers,” as Jo [March, in “Little Women”] writes in a letter home, where a variety of people would rent rooms and eat at a common table—seems at best quaint, and at worst unsafe and unsavory, as 19th-century critics had it. In the grand narrative of American home life—farm, small town, suburb, apartment—the boardinghouse feels like a long-vanished footnote.

In places like Boston, however, they were anything but minor: They were a key part of how 19th-century cities grew, and left an imprint that survives even now. Whole neighborhoods teemed with them. Boardinghouses for black, Irish, Jewish, and immigrant Bostonians filled the lower slopes of Beacon Hill, while even genteel landladies on fashionable Beacon Street advertised “rooms with a private family.” As American cities turned into true modern metropolises in the 1830s, boarding became a way of life; social historians estimate that between a third and half of 19th-century urban resident were either boarders themselves, or took boarders into their homes.

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Boston and other urban centers are seeing the development of new and denser housing. Some “micro-apartment” developments echo boardinghouses closely, with small private quarters and common areas in which residents can eat and socialize together.

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Boarding not only saved money and time, but to writers or others who craved exposure to a world beyond small towns, they provided an opportunity for social mixing, privacy, storytelling, and intimacy with strangers. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe all lived occasionally as boarders.

Boardinghouses: where the city was born. How a vanished way of living shaped America — and what it might offer us today.

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“Lobbying”

What if you could bet on Wednesday’s NBA game between Golden State and Oklahoma City, and before the game or at least before the final buzzer, you could lobby the referees and the league to change the rules? Maybe you would bet on Oklahoma City and then lobby to abolish the three-point shot.

Hedge funds and other investment firms are playing that very game in Washington, D.C., these days. Recently, Capitol Hill has seen a blitz of lobbying on how Puerto Rico should handle its debt amid fiscal disaster, and how Treasury should deal with private investors in bailed out government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Behind the barrage of lobbying, op-eds and public relations is a handful of hedge funds who have gambled one way or another on GSE stock or Puerto Rican debt, in the hope that they could pull enough strings in Washington to make big bucks.

. . .

Investors allocating capital according to which policy tweaks they think they can win doesn’t sound like the type of capitalism that maximizes economic efficiency. It’s just public-policy profiteering.

As government gets involved in more parts of the economy, hedge funds will increasingly engage in this public-policy profiteering. This will make lobbying on these arcane issues more common and more intense.

So maybe it’s a good time to be long on K Street.

Puerto Rico’s debt, Fannie Mae’s stock, and public-policy profiteering

Ozymandias

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Lord, have mercy on them. And on us.

What exactly has birthed the Pajama Boy aristocracy — our overclass of pretentious, inexperienced, and smug 30-something masters of the universe?

Prolonged adolescence? Affluence? The disappearance of physical chores and muscular labor? The collapse of traditional liberal education and the triumph of the therapeutic mindset? Disdain for or ignorance of life outside the Boston–New York–Washington corridor? Political correctness as a sort of careerist indemnity that allows one to live a sheltered and apartheid existence? The shift in collective values and status from production, agriculture, and manufacturing to government, law, finance, and media? The reinvention of the university as a social-awareness retreat rather than a place to learn?

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Ben Rhodes gloats over misleading the American people about the conditions that led to the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and how the Obama administration sold the “We drove them crazy” deal as a non-treaty that could be rerouted around Senate approval. But after Rhodes follows other 30-something Obama speechwriters to Hollywood, who cleans up the mess of an Iran blackmailing the Middle East with nuclear-tipped missiles?

The Pajama Boy White House

Moral preening. Narcissism. Ozymandias. Enough Caesaropapism!

Continue reading ‘Lord, have mercy on them. And on us.’ »

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