Thursday, October 18, 2007 37 Comments

How Dawkins got pwned (part 4)

(See part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

To review, I've argued that Professor Dawkins is pwned because he's chosen quite unthinkingly to lend his literary talents to a received tradition I call Universalism, which is a nontheistic Christian sect. Some other current labels for this same tradition, more or less synonymous, are progressivism, multiculturalism, liberalism, humanism, leftism, political correctness, and the like. My only excuse for minting my own term is that these other labels, since they are in common use, imply various associations which may confuse the reader.

In my humble but convinced opinion, Universalism is far more important, far more dangerous, and far more antirational than its theistic Christian competitors, which Professor Dawkins attacks with such fury. He thinks he's a Galileo, Vavilov or Darwin. But if my perspective is accurate, Professor Dawkins is more a Caccini, Lysenko or Wilberforce. He is pwned in every sense of the word, and history will treat him in its usual harsh manner. A few librarians may remember him as a curiosity of the era.

Of course, I am just a humble blogger and I have no control at all over history. Sometimes I write out my screeds in tiny, cramped longhand, and staple them to telephone poles. You, dear reader, should treat them as if you found them that way. After all, anyone can start a blog.

In my opinion, however, Universalism is the dominant modern branch of Christianity on the Calvinist line, evolving from the English Dissenter or Puritan tradition through the Unitarian, Transcendentalist, and Progressive movements. Its ancestral briar patch also includes a few sideways sprigs that are important enough to name but whose Christian ancestry is slightly better concealed, such as Rousseauvian laicism, Benthamite utilitarianism, Reformed Judaism, Comtean positivism, German Idealism, Marxist scientific socialism, Sartrean existentialism, Heideggerian postmodernism, etc, etc, etc. All but the first can be traced back to the first, and Rousseau himself was a Genevan and acknowledged his political debt to Calvin's republic. So Universalism traces almost all of its memetic DNA to this hateful little phony, this pissant, heretic-roasting tyrant on the lake, Jehan Cauvin - so well-sketched by Stefan Zweig.

Which is no reason to automatically condemn it. After all, Scarlett Johansson traces all of her actual DNA to chimps. Evolution can change anything. Universalism as we know it today, a la Port Huron Statement, would be quite unrecognizable to any of its 16th-century or 17th-century ancestors. It would shock the living daylights out of most of its 18th-century or 19th-century ones. It is what it is. It is not something else.

Most of my previous discussions of Universalism have been devoted simply to the task of demonstrating that the label is apt, that the tradition is real, and that its pedigree is accurate. I don't regard this as audacious at all, since most religions and other traditions in history have been named by their enemies. Labels such as Unitarian, Methodist, Whig, Tory, and many others originated as hostile slurs and were subsequently accepted as accurate.

But again, the thing can only be judged as itself. I've described a few ways in which I think Universalism should be considered harmful - for example, in part 3. But I don't think I've really presented a high-level overview of the thing as it is today, abjuring any and all snide references to the Jukes and Kallikaks in its stud book.

Universalism, in my opinion, is best described as a mystery cult of power.

It's a cult of power because one critical stage in its replicative lifecycle is a little critter called the State. When we look at the big U's surface proteins, we notice that most of them can be explained by its need to capture, retain, and maintain the State, and direct its powers toward the creation of conditions that favor the continued replication of Universalism. It's as hard to imagine Universalism without the State as malaria without the mosquito.

It's a mystery cult because it displaces theistic traditions by replacing metaphysical superstitions with philosophical mysteries, such as humanity, progress, equality, democracy, justice, environment, community, peace, etc.

None of these concepts, as defined in orthodox Universalist doctrine, is even slightly coherent. All can absorb arbitrary mental energy without producing any rational thought. In this they are best compared to Plotinian, Talmudic, or Scholastic nonsense. (I link to this David Stove piece often, and I encourage anyone who hasn't read it to do so. No, this does not constitute an endorsement of everything that Professor Stove ever wrote.)

The Universalist mysteries are best regarded as mechanisms. When we apply our neohominid intuitions to a successful adaptive system such as Universalism, we should think of its goal as replicative success. Of course, a tradition is not a person, just as a meme is not a gene, and it no more has goals than a meme has Mendelian inheritance. It's especially important not to confuse the personal goals of Universalists with the adaptive goals of Universalism. But with these caveats, we can use this analogy to deploy our mirror neurons in our own defense.

For Universalism as for any other tradition, the adaptive purpose of a mystery is to confuse its host. Lacking a clear perception of reality, the infected host behaves in ways that an uninfected host would not. We can call this confusion camouflage.

As compared to the behavior of the uninfected, sometimes these actions are beneficial to the host, or to a group which includes the host, but their actual effect is contrary to the host's ethical standards. We can call this positive camouflage. Sometimes these actions are harmful to the host or a group which includes the host. We can call this negative camouflage.

If we can deploy the e-word, positive camouflage contributes to evil by convincing those who do evil that they are actually doing good. For example, if we believe Himmler's Posen speech, those who perpetrated the Holocaust believed that they were carrying out a difficult but necessary duty. Negative camouflage contributes to evil by preventing its victims from resisting it. While we're on Nazis, the great example is the Oxford Union peace resolution.

Of course, if we are to deploy the e-word, we have to tackle the thorny problem of defining good and evil. We have two approaches to this.

One, we can define our moral axis with respect to Universalism itself. For example, if we apply this test to Nazism, we see that Nazism was evil even with respect to itself. Nazi ethics defined good as the power and prosperity of the Deutsche Volk and its guide Adolf Hitler. The result of Nazi policies was the physical destruction of Germany, the conversion of the German people to Universalism, the total suppression of Volkisch thought, and the death of Adolf Hitler - not exactly as advertised. This approach gives us reflexive evil or reflexive good.

Two, we can define our moral axis with respect to the personal or reproductive interests of you yourself, dear reader. If this criterion makes sense only with respect to a group, we can speak of the group of UR readers - which includes me, because I sometimes do try to slog through my own long posts. If Universalism harms or advances your or our personal interests, we say it exhibits Misesian evil or good. If it harms or advances your or our reproductive interests, it exhibits Darwinian evil or good.

Darwinian morality is an especially good reality check, because the neohominid brain is of course designed to advance its own Darwinian interests. Any tradition that can persuade it to do otherwise has to be some pretty heavy crack. As we'll see, Universalism more than fits the bill. However, to generate a really strong moral conclusion, we'd like to see agreement among all three criteria: reflexive, Misesian and Darwinian.

One easy way to do this is to examine some scenarios in which Universalism could lead to either the extinction of the neohominid species, or the destruction of Western civilization. Clearly, any such result represents the triumph of reflexive, Misesian and Darwinian evil. And if such results are plausible, worrying about anything smaller is a waste of time.

Let's unravel this problem by starting with the Universalist mystery of progress, which Professor Dawkins calls the Zeitgeist or Spirit of Time.

First, it's worth noting that chapter 7 of The God Delusion, in which Professor Dawkins introduces this concept, opens with a quote by one Sean O'Casey:
Politics has slain its thousands, but religion
has slain its tens of thousands.
La Wik describes O'Casey as a "nationalist and socialist." Frankly, he sounds like an evil little fucker. The evil little fucker was born in 1880, and presumably he uttered his little ort of shite at some point before nationalist, socialist politics - not to mention National Socialism proper - managed to slay its tens of millions. The fact that Professor Dawkins could, in 2007, quote this Stalinist flack and his fatuous, thoroughly-obsolete line - and his legion of acolytes swallow it without a hiccup - may be a sufficient demonstration of Universalist pwnage.

But if it's worth continuing, it's worth repeating Professor Dawkins' definition of the Zeitgeist: a mysterious consensus, which changes over the decades. For some reason, these changes over the decades almost always favor Universalism itself. This is of course progress, and our Spirit of Time bears a suspicious resemblance to the MO of Divine Providence, minus of course the Divine bit.

Since Professor Dawkins does not have Providence to lean on, he is forced to find a rational explanation for this historical curiosity. His struggles are wonderful reading:
Where, then, have these concerted and steady changes in social consciousness come from? The onus is not on me to answer. For my purposes it is sufficient that they certainly have not come from religion.
Exeter Hall would beg to differ. So would Henry Ward Beecher, Walter Rauschenbusch, William Sloane Coffin, etc, etc.
We need to explain why the changing moral Zeitgeist is so widely synchronized across large numbers of people and we need to explain its relatively consistent direction.
Indeed.
First, how is it synchronized across so many people? It spreads itself from mind to mind through conversations in bars and at dinner parties, through books and book reviews, through newspapers and broadcasting, and nowadays through the Internet.
Not to mention the State and its entire educational system, from kindergarten to grad school. Obviously this is less important than "bars and dinner parties." But I'm just saying.
Changes in the moral climate are signalled in editorials, on radio talk shows, in political speeches, in the pattern of stand-up comedians and the scripts of soap operas, in the votes of parliaments making laws and the decisions of judges interpreting them.
That's an interesting word - "signalled."
One way to put it would be in terms of changing meme frequencies in the meme pool, but I shall not pursue that.
Fortunately, Professor Dawkins, you don't have to.
What impels it in its consistent direction? We mustn't neglect the driving role of individual leaders who, ahead of their time, stand up and persuade the rest of us to move on with them.
Curiously enough, leaders come in all kinds of flavors. We mustn't neglect the fascinating question of why the Universalist ones always win, and the others always lose. Oh, wait, we must neglect it. Obviously these aren't the droids we're looking for.
In America, the ideals of racial equality were fostered by political leaders of the calibre of Martin Luther King,
I know it's cheap, but I simply can't resist the temptation to attach a little innuendo to the word "calibre." As Dr. King himself put it, "I'm not a Negro tonight!"
and entertainers, sportsmen and other public figures such as Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson.
Isn't it interesting how the Zeitgeist seems to correlate with dermal pigmentation?
The emancipations of slaves and of women owed much to charismatic leaders. Some of these leaders were religious; some were not. Some who were religious did their good deeds because of they were religious. In other cases their religion was incidental.
Presumably if Professor Dawkins discovered a fossil which looked a little like a chimpanzee and a little like a neohominid, he might regard it as an indication of a link between the two. Sadly, in the memetic department, this lobe of his brain seems to be in the off position.
Although Martin Luther King was a Christian, he derived his philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience directly from Gandhi, who was not.
The number of historical solecisms in this sentence is astounding. The modern idea of civil disobedience - that is, breaking the actual legal law, in favor of some mysterious higher law, an obvious case of positive camouflage - dates to neither King nor Gandhi, but to Thoreau and the Transcendentalists, who were of course direct ancestors of Universalism.

As for Gandhi, this Richard Grenier essay is simply essential. But what it fails to point out is that Gandhi's weird communist pseudo-Hinduism was a invention, a sort of Ossianism or Kwanzaa, an Indian equivalent of the phony Gaelic revival associated with the Fenian movement. Like Nehru, Gandhi was a British lawyer with brown skin. Their movement - like its Irish counterpart - succeeded entirely through its alliance with British political forces, and in specific the Nonconformist and proto-Universalist Labour Party. For example, in Paul Scott's Jewel in the Crown, one character is a Nonconformist missionary nun, and it's taken for granted that she has a picture of Gandhi on her wall and despises the Raj.

Anyway, to finish with this sport:
It is beyond my amateur psychology and sociology to go any further in explaining why the moral Zeitgeist moves in its broadly concerted way.
Professor Dawkins, if you were to go any less further, you'd need a rear-view mirror.
For my purposes it is enough that, as a matter of observed fact, it does move, and it is not driven by religion - and certainly not by scripture.
Which obviously makes it a product of pure reason.
It is probably not a single force like gravity, but a complex interplay of disparate forces like the one that propels Moore's Law, describing the exponential increase in computer power.
Boys and girls, can you say "epicycle?"

The epicycle in Professor Dawkins' theory of history is needed to explain why, when we look at history, good always prevails over evil. Or almost always:
Even when he was railing against Christianity, Hitler never ceased using the language of Providence: a mysterious agency which, he believed, had singled him out for a divine mission to lead Germany.
This second "mysterious agency" appears just six pages from Professor Dawkins' own Zeitgeist. One really wonders whether this man has read his own book.

Of course, a theism-independent perspective of memetic evolution eliminates our need for the epicycle. What Professor Dawkins is observing is simply the selective success of Universalism. Universalism succeeded, by definition, because it was better-adapted than its competitors. Since Professor Dawkins is a Universalist, of course he views this as the triumph of good over evil. But his Zeitgeist is no more than the well-known fallacy of survivor bias. And Hitler's Providence, which doubtless made itself scarce around 1942, is exactly the same animal.

So the question remains: why does good so consistently triumph over evil?

If we exclude supernatural forces which cause the good side to win elections, battles and wars, we are left with no explanation at all of this strange phenomenon, so reminiscent of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. "Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads..."

It's true that people want to be good. Perhaps we should expect them to flock to the good side, outnumbering the evil. On the other hand, when we remember the phenomenon of positive camouflage, and see that most who do evil think of themselves as doing good, it's hard to take this seriously. And moreover, actual good has to be actually good, whereas evil by definition is capable of anything. If the military advantage is anywhere, it would seem to lie with the latter.

Essentially, what we've found behind this particular Universalist mystery is the assertion that Universalism has triumphed because Universalism is good and good triumphs. Good triumphs because Universalism is successful and Universalism is good. Spot the unsubstantiated assertion!

Just as we have no reason at all to assume that neohominid populations are geographically uniform, we have no reason at all to assume that Universalism is good - in either the reflexive, Darwinian, or Misesian sense. Of course we learned in school that Universalism is good, in at least the first and third senses. But who did we learn this from? Universalist teachers. Again, all we know is that Universalism is successful. And we can say the same of Universalism's ancestors. The winners write history. If Nazism had won its war, citizens of the Nazi 2007 would see history as an inevitable progress toward the National Socialist present.

Thus, Universalist historicism is effective camouflage both negative and positive. The circular reasoning behind the mystery of progress, Zeitgeist or Providence dissuades those who might be harmed by Universalism from considering the possibility that Universalism is not, in fact, good, and needs to be fought against. And it persuades those whose interests Universalism advances that they are serving good, not evil.

We are now in a position to strip off this camouflage and have a look at what's behind it.

If progress is simply the victory of Universalism, and Universalism need not be entirely good, we need to construct an interpretation of history which recognizes both progress and decay. Where Universalism is good, its victory is by definition progress. Where Universalism is bad, its victory must be decay. Without mysterious or supernatural pro-good forces, we would expect to see some mix of the former and the latter.

Let's cap this exercise at about 250 years, ie, at 1757. Some Universalist distortions may go back farther, but they dwindle rapidly. Before this period it is usually hard, when reading a typical Universalist history, to tell which side is supposed to be righteous and which wrongtious. Once we get to the American and French Revolutions, we are left in no doubt.

It is very difficult for a modern American to construct the history of the last 250 years as a history of decay. Decay is especially concealed by the obvious history of technical and scientific progress. While this has no reason at all to correlate with political or cultural progress, the two are certainly not hard to confuse.

However, one way to look at the question is to look at the traditional opposite of the word progressive: that is, reactionary.

Howard Zinn, for example, has given us an progressive interpretation of history. What is a comparable reactionary narrative? Professor Zinn, of course, would like us to believe that any narrative less progressive than his is reactionary. But perhaps it is only reactionary compared to Professor Zinn.

What we really need is an interpretation of history so reactionary that it contains no Universalism or proto-Universalism at all. Instead, it should start with the mainstream perspective of 1757, and interpret all evidence of impending Universalism as the story of decline, disaster and decay.

Then, we can compare the progressive and reactionary narratives on a level playing field, evaluating the relative credibility of both, and decide on what points to accept which - thus allocating Universalist history, and implicitly Universalism itself, between progress and decay.

For this we need our pure reactionary theory of history. Needless to say, this is a very specialized product. It is not sold in any stores. It is not even found in a single volume. Nonetheless, the Internet is of great assistance in assembling the product.

If I had to pick ten books from which to construct a reactionary theory of modern history, I would pick - in order of composition, which makes a good reading order:
I've included links to online editions where available. All of these are, in my opinion, absolute classics and should be read by anyone even remotely interested in history.

(A question for readers: can anyone recommend a good reactionary history of the American Revolution? Or should I say, Rebellion? For some reason, I haven't bumped into any Tory treatments which live up to the above standard.)

Let me also mention James Stephen's Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, a wonderful book which is a little too close to the Maine to make this list, and also suffers from the disability that I have not yet read all of it. However, just to show that there is nothing new under the sun, here is how Stephen's classic opens:
The object of this work is to examine the doctrines which are rather hinted at than expressed by the phrase ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ This phrase has been the motto of more than one Republic. It is indeed something more than a motto. It is the creed of a religion, less definite than any one of the forms of Christianity, which are in part its rivals, in part its antagonists, and in part its associates, but not on that account the less powerful. It is, on the contrary, one of the most penetrating influences of the day. It shows itself now and then in definite forms, of which Positivism is the one best known to our generation, but its special manifestations give no adequate measure of its depth or width. It penetrates other creeds. It has often transformed Christianity into a system of optimism, which has in some cases retained and in others rejected Christian phraseology. It deeply influences politics and legislation. It has its solemn festivals, its sober adherents, its enthusiasts, its Anabaptists and Antinomians. The Religion of Humanity is perhaps as good a name as could be found for it, if the expression is used in a wider sense than the narrow and technical one associated with it by Comte. It is one of the commonest beliefs of the day that the human race collectively has before it splendid destinies of various kinds, and that the road to them is to be found in the removal of all restraints on human conduct, in the recognition of a substantial equality between all human creatures, and in fraternity or general love. These doctrines are in very many cases held as a religious faith. They are regarded not merely as truths, but as truths for which those who believe in them are ready to do battle, and for the establishment of which they are prepared to sacrifice all merely personal ends.

Such, stated of course in the most general terms, is the religion of which I take ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ to be the creed. I do not believe it.

I am not the advocate of Slavery, Caste, and Hatred, nor do I deny that a sense may be given to the words, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, in which they may be regarded as good. I wish to assert with respect to them two propositions.

First, that in the present day even those who use those words most rationally—that is to say, as the names of elements of social life which, like others, have their advantages and disadvantages according to time, place, and circumstance—have a great disposition to exaggerate their advantages and to deny the existence, or at any rate to underrate the importance, of their disadvantages.

Next, that whatever signification be attached to them, these words are ill-adapted to be the creed of a religion, that the things which they denote are not ends in themselves, and that when used collectively the words do not typify, however vaguely, any state of society which a reasonable man ought to regard with enthusiasm or self-devotion.
Compare to Maine's brilliant reactionary blast:
It has always been my desire and hope to apply the Historical Method to the political institutions of men. But, here again, the inquiry into the history of these institutions, and the attempt to estimate their true value by the results of such an inquiry, are seriously embarrassed by a mass of ideas and beliefs which have grown up in our day on the subject of one particular form of government, that extreme form of popular government which is called Democracy. A portion of the notions which prevail in Europe concerning Popular Government are derived (and these are worthy of all respect) from observation of its practical working; a larger portion merely reproduce technical rules of the British or American constitutions in an altered or disguised form; but a multitude of ideas on this subject, ideas which are steadily absorbing or displacing all others, appear to me, like the theories of jurisprudence of which I have spoken, to have been conceived a priori. They are, in fact, another set of deductions from the assumption of a State of Nature. Their true source has never been forgotten on the Continent of Europe, where they are well known to have sprung from the teaching of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that men emerged from the primitive natural condition by a process which made every form of government, except Democracy, illegitimate. In this country they are not often explicitly, or even consciously, referred to their real origin, which is, nevertheless, constantly betrayed by the language in which they are expressed. Democracy is commonly described as having an inherent superiority over every other form of government. It is supposed to advance with an irresistible and preordained movement. It is thought to be full of the promise of blessings to mankind; yet if it fails to bring with it these blessings, or even proves to be prolific of the heaviest calamities, it is not held to deserve condemnation. These are the familiar marks of a theory which claims to be independent of experience and observation on the plea that it bears the credentials of a golden age, non-historical and unverifiable.
Let me quickly explain my reactionary theory of history, which comes from reading weird old forgotten books such as the above. Note that this theory is quite simple. Depending on your inclinations, you may regard this as a good thing or a bad thing.

In order to get to the reactionary theory of history, we need a reactionary theory of government. History, again, is interpretation, and interpretation requires theory. I've described this theory before under the name of neocameralism, but on a blog it never hurts to be a little repetitive.

First: government is not a mystical or mysterious institution. A government is simply a group of people working together for a common aim, ie, a corporation. Whether a government is good or bad is not determined by who its employees are or how they are selected. It is determined by whether the actions of the government are good or bad.

Second: the only difference between a government and a "private corporation" is that the former is sovereign: it has no higher authority to which it can appeal to protect its property. A sovereign corporation owns its territory, and maintains that ownership by demonstrating unchallenged control. It is stable if no other party, internal or external, has any incentive to attack it. Especially in the nuclear age, it is not difficult to deter prospective attackers.

Third: a good government is a well-managed sovereign corporation. Good government is efficient management. Efficient management is profitable management. A profitable government has no incentive to break its promises, abuse its citizens (who are its capital), or attack its neighbors.

Fourth: efficient management can be implemented by the same techniques in sovereign corporations as in nonsovereign ones. The company's profit is distributed equally to holders of negotiable shares. The shareholders elect a board, which selects a CEO.

Fifth: although the full neocameralist approach has never been tried, its closest historical equivalents to this approach are the 18th-century tradition of enlightened absolutism as represented by Frederick the Great, and the 21st-century nondemocratic tradition as seen in lost fragments of the British Empire such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. These states appear to provide a very high quality of service to their citizens, with no meaningful democracy at all. They have minimal crime and high levels of personal and economic freedom. They tend to be quite prosperous. They are weak only in political freedom, and political freedom is unimportant by definition when government is stable and effective.

Sixth: the comparative success of the American and European postwar systems appears to be due to their abandonment of democratic politics as a practical mechanism of government, in favor of a civil-service Beamtenstaat in which democratic politicians are increasingly symbolic. The post-communist civil-service states, China and Russia, appear to be converging on the same system, although their stability is ensured primarily by direct military authority, rather than by a system of managed public opinion.

Seventh: the post-democratic civil-service state, while not utterly disastrous, is not the end of history. It has two problems. One, the size and complexity of its regulatory system tends to increase without bound, resulting in economic stagnation and general apathy. Two, more critically, it can neither abolish democratic politics formally, nor defend itself against changes in information flow that may destabilize public opinion. Notably, the rise of the Internet disrupts the feedback loop between public education and political power, allowing noncanonical ideas to flourish. If these ideas are both rationally compelling and politically delegitimating, the state is threatened.

Eighth: therefore, productive political efforts should focus on peacefully terminating, restructuring and decentralizing the 20th-century civil-service state along neocameralist lines. The ideal result is a planet of thousands, even tens of thousands, of independent city-states, each managed for profit by its shareholders.

Note that this perspective has nothing at all in common with the Universalist theory of government. Note also the simplicity of the transition that it suggests should have happened, from monarchy as a family business to a modern corporate structure with separate board and CEO, eliminating the vagaries of the hereditary principle.

Now let's look - from this reactionary perspective - at what actually did happen.

First, in America and Europe from the late 18th through the middle of the 19th century, we see a series of violent changes in power, in which states were overthrown and territories captured by disorganized mobs of their own residents, sometimes in cahoots with the army. These were called revolutions. They were almost entirely destructive phenomena, with no major point to recommend them. There is no revolution in this period which had benign results. The French revolutions of 1789 and 1830, for example, can be blamed entirely on irresolute monarchs without the courage, dexterity or both to use the military against the mob.

Moreover, even when states did not capitulate totally to revolutionary mobs, they often surrendered partially, as for example in the Reform Bill of 1832. This led to a progressive acceleration of democracy, and its inevitable accomplice, paramilitary violence. The US, for example, in the height of its democratic period from 1828 to 1932, was almost never without violent elections or political gangs. Democratic government before the civil-service era was also corrupt on an almost indescribable scale.

Democracy, and democratic ideologies and religions, had become power cults which attracted and selected for the ambitious and unscrupulous. Numerous corrupt systems which could command voting blocs sprung up, from urban ward-heeler machines to yellow-journalist newspapers. Deceiving the voting population was job one for these political engineers, and public opinion on all political subjects - government, law, economics, and war - began to diverge significantly from reality.

This situation culminated in the first great total war of the democratic era, the War of Secession between Union and Confederacy. The proximate cause of the War of Secession was the anti-slavery campaign, a political-religious nationalist movement in the North that harangued the South with apocalyptic rhetoric, supported paramilitary terrorist attacks on it, extracted vast quantities of tax through an almost punitive tariff, unilaterally and informally rewrote the Constitution to strengthen its own power and hold the South captive, and in general did everything it could to stoke Southern paranoia. But the latter was hardly lacking, as the South had developed its own bizarre nationalist movement, a romantic cult which glorified a hereditary caste system and threatened to invade the entire Western hemisphere, Yankeeland excluded - and only because it was bad land for sugarcane, tobacco or cotton. Neither of these competing nationalisms was conceivable in the 19th century, and both are most parsimoniously ascribed to the effect of 80 years of democracy on the mass mind.

The War of Secession was a war of mass destruction in which all previously known laws of war were violated, generally by the North with its revived Puritan cult of righteousness. It killed half a million men and brought happiness to none but the killers - not even the slaves, whose liberation was a sham but whose destitution was certainly not. As such it prefigured the even more destructive wars of the following century. It also destroyed the American tradition of limited government, setting the scene for the megastate to come.

Probably the most destructive result of the 19th-century democratic movement was the rise of militant nationalism, which beleaguered aristocratic elites found all too effective in deflecting the sympathies of the increasingly violent mob. Contrary to the promises of democrats, the first tastes of socialist plunder only whetted the mob's appetite for more. Democratic factions divided according to their preferred food for this great beast: money or blood.

This jingoist tendency, also inconceivable in the 18th century, eventually culminated in the war which destroyed European civilization, the Great War. The first outbreak of the Great War, which lasted from 1914 to 1918 killed millions of young men and left Russia in the hands of a barbaric neo-Jacobin military death cult. The same cult later devastated Spain, where order was fortunately restored under a nationalist movement that was at least neither socialist nor expansionist. Finally, the ultimate synthesis of nationalism and socialism, fascism, restarted the Great War, which became a worldwide conflict between the militarist and socialist traditions. At the end of the Great War in 1945, memory of the belle epoque had dwindled to near extinction, and there was no significant political force which supported the restoration of the classical liberal era.

The US had succumbed to a socialist revolution under false electoral premises in 1932. This was primarily the result of a financial panic, which was caused by unscrupulous dilution of the currency in the boom of the 1920s, through the new Federal Reserve System. After the first phase of the Great War, the gold standard, which was never entirely stable under the Anglo-American fractional-reserve system, had been restored in a broken form (the "gold-exchange standard") which was more tolerant of dilution through state-guaranteed maturity-mismatched lending, but not tolerant enough. The collapse of this system allowed inflationist economists to claim that capitalism itself had failed, not unlike the famous orphan who requested clemency for the murder of his parents. This brought on a socialist revolution, the New Deal, in which the Federal government and the Progressive civil-service machine claimed unlimited legislative power to deal with the emergency it had created for itself.

It has never relinquished this power, nor can it ever be expected to. It has never restored a metallic currency, nor can it ever be expected to. Its civil service and judiciary are entirely insulated from democracy. Its legislative body, which remains bicameral for reasons now only historical, has an incumbent reelection rate in the high 90s. Its two political parties, which are no longer meaningful organizations and are now mere labels, are identical on all substantive domestic policy issues. Most of their efforts are put into fighting proxy wars against each other, often involving American soldiers, on distant parts of the globe which have no relevance at all to domestic security. The Federal government consumes 30% of GNP, and the US borrows 6% of GNP from abroad every year just to stay afloat. Crime is rampant, with many parts of many major cities effectively uninhabitable by any civilized person, and a substantial criminal class. Some cities, such as Detroit, have been entirely cleansed of their white population and in some places are even reverting to prairie (but very dangerous prairie). Former residents of the cities, whose old Irish, Italian and Jewish quarters no longer exist, have fled to more defensible quarters in hideous strip-mall suburbs. Encouraged by both parties, which jockey for their votes, uneducated peasants from Latin America are flooding in unknown numbers across its uncontrolled borders. Fortunately, so far this new generation of immigrants has seen little of the joys of the criminal lifestyle, but this seems to change quickly for their children. In short, the US is rapidly becoming a Third World country, not unlike present-day Brazil. The only mercy is that its respite from democracy has lasted.

After the Great War, the socialist powers fell out, as gangs often do. The first split was the US-Soviet split, in which the latter turned out to be more interested in territory and power than in a position as a US satellite. In the resulting Cold War, these two powers dismembered the remnants of European law and order in the Third World, in the worst scramble for colonial supremacy the world had yet seen. Any pretext of bringing good government to uncivilized peoples was forgotten, and any nationalist thug, preferably as socialist as possible, was a satisfactory client for either side. Most of the non-European world, including even formerly civilized countries such as China, reverted to the rule of national-socialist warlords who competed for American and Soviet favor. Some, such as Yugoslavia and China, split from both factions and courted the aid of both. Perhaps a hundred million people around the world were murdered in this "liberation," which is still revered as such worldwide. The supposedly "independent" countries of the Third World are still dependent on aid from the US and its European satellites. There is one independent Third World country in the world - Somaliland.

Meanwhile, competing branches of the US government still engage in Third World proxy wars, in which the Defense Department and its political allies and satellites (the Republican Party, the arms and energy industry, Israel) face off against the State Department and its allies and satellites (the Democratic Party, the NGOs and universities, Europe, Palestine). The true nature of these conflicts, which would end instantly if the US was under unitary leadership, or even if both American factions could agree to cut off all "aid" to all their foreign satellites, is admitted by no one. It is considered entirely normal that the US often arms, and always talks with, both sides of these bizarre, incurable pseudo-wars.

Lately, the old Third World national-socialist movement has managed to refit itself with an Islamic facade, and destroyed a couple of very large buildings in New York, killing thousands of people. No effective effort against the perpetrators has been mounted, probably because any successful American military effort brings political prestige to the American right and threatens to reignite the old era of nationalist jingoism, a threat which terrifies the American left - and for good reason. So many individuals involved with the attack live and continue their efforts in a country which is not at war with the US, nor vice versa. Most Americans consider this entirely normal. The concept of war itself has been under attack for the last fifty years, in favor of an entirely new legal model which is derived from domestic criminal justice, and which seems designed to make it as difficult as possible for civilized forces to defeat uncivilized ones, a theory which certainly fits the short-term political needs of its proponents. The resulting concept of "asymmetric warfare" is also generally accepted, with only a little grumbling, as a necessary burden that must be shouldered by our great and moral nation.

Other than this, everything is fine. Technology is moving along pretty well. Moore's Law continues to zoom along. We have fast computers and fancy mobile phones and other things that no one in the 18th century could dream of. If they could see our political system, however, I'm afraid they'd understand it all too well.

Frankly, any system of thought that can convincingly present this history as a case of progress is capable of anything. Readers may, of course, differ with my interpretation of events. But hopefully at this point they at least understand why I see Universalism as a parasitic tradition.

Next week, I'll talk about how Universalism could destroy the world, the species, or at least just civilization. As always, please feel free to anticipate me in the comments.

37 Comments:

Blogger Victor said...

Wonderful post, Mencius. Much better than the first three parts. Once you got away from trying to spin Dawkins and got back to analyzing history and somesuch, the sparkle returned. I especially liked your mirror view of history. I will report that excerpt, with proper credit and link of course, on a politics discussion board I frequent.

Of course I entirely understand why you would have trouble interpreting history as progress. it reminds me of the famous Dancer Illusion -- you either see it turning clockwise or counterclockwise, and it's very hard to snap between th two perspectives, much harder than in the traditional static ambiguous illusions.

Anyway, I would like to make two asides about your post.

First of all, your sneering dismissal or humanity, progress, equality, democracy, justice, environment, community, peace is IMo a tad premature. Thos things should be understood as values, not observed phenomena. Once you do that, the problem you complained about, essentially vanishes. You had attacked a strawman of universalism.

Secondly, as i had commented before, your contemptuous equation of progress with providence is, i think, rather inaccurate. Progress is an observed phenomenon in very many respects over the long term, including the sociopolitical development. Even if one agrees with yout interpretation of the last two and a half centuries, once one takes the view over the entire span of human history, the improvement is still in evidence.

Furthermore, this phenomenon can be very easily explained, albeit in a rather weak sense, without resorting to teleology, metaphysics, mystery, or whatever.

Increase in complexity provides a greater opportunity to exploit positive non-zero-sumness. As such, the societies and polities which grow in complexity, and exploit the positive non-zero-sumness, will outcompete those which don't. The side effect of this, of course, is that such societies will evidence positive non-zero-sumness. Granted, this marginal positive change will not always translate into a positive change for individuals, but on the whole, other things being equal, the positives will inevitably percolate through the society -- if not on their own, then through the efforts of the majority which is deprived of the benefit of those positives but desires to get in on the action.

You may notice tha the first half of this explanation (about the increase in complexity) essentially mirrors the biological explanation for the observed increase in complexity of the ecosystem and its members. The second bit is the same assumption which you already made -- that revolutions happen because people want stuff -- but, in the context of it happening because the stuff is gained but doesn't 'trickle down', this is not a bad thing.

This of course is a 10,000ft view, and suffers from the overgeneralization problems which always accompany such views. However, it is an example of how one can explain progress without resorting to mysticism.

October 18, 2007 at 6:37 AM  
Blogger Victor said...

OK, I posted the excerpt here. You might have to create an account to access that board, unfortunately.

October 18, 2007 at 7:03 AM  
Blogger brendon said...

great post as always, but i don't really see how frederick the great was at all 'neocameralist' (maybe this will be explained in part 5?), and some of the facts seem stretched a bit thin. for example:

"Let's cap this exercise at about 250 years, ie, at 1757. Some Universalist distortions may go back farther, but they dwindle rapidly. Before this period it is usually hard, when reading a typical Universalist history, to tell which side is supposed to be righteous and which wrongtious. Once we get to the American and French Revolutions, we are left in no doubt."

we're left in no doubt about the french revolution?! even our most esteemed universalist purveyor of dewy-eyed humanism -- good ol' chuck dickens (if you doubt his universalist cred, read his children's history of england where cromwell is depicted as the Savior of Mankind and Charles the Second as a Warhol's Factory type guttersnipe) -- seemed to be a bit on the fence about the jacobins....

btw, if you like liberty, equality, fraternity, richard posner has a good chapter on it at the beginning of economics of justice (i think).

October 18, 2007 at 8:49 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

There is so much to discuss here that I'll confine myself to just one question for now, that about a reactionary history of the American revolution. This is a hard one to deal with because it depends upon the point of departure.

If the conventional, "Whig history" view of the matter is taken, the American revolution was part of "progress" and a reactionary view would accordingly reflect the British rationale for desiring to subjugate the colonists. The best exegesis of the view of the British government is probably Dr. Samuel Johnson's pamphlet "Taxation no Tyranny."

There is a view, however - and it happens to be the one to which I subscribe - that the revolution was itself a reactionary movement and that it was the upstart Hanoverian monarch George III and his ambitious minister the Earl of Bute who represented "progress." The causes of the war were the innovations introduced by the British government - taxes to pay for the French and Indian war, the costs of which London thought ought to be borne by its colonies, and the assertion of central authority from London in a manner to which the colonists had not been accustomed by previous practice.

The revolution was, after all, led by country squires and slaveholders like Washington, Charles Pinckney, "Light Horse" Lee, Patrick Henry, and Edmund Randolph. They were really much more akin in their motivations to the barons who forced Magna Charta upon the innovative centralizer king John to preserve the traditional liberties of Englishmen, than they were to "progressive" revolutionaries like the Jacobins and Bolshevists, who acted on the basis of abstract ideologies.

This view is well expounded in M. E. Bradford's two books, "A Better Guide than Reason: Studies in the American Revolution," and "Worthy Company: Brief Lives of the Framers of the United States Constitution." Mel was himself a proudly self-described reactionary, and another of his books (also well worth reading) is entitled "The Reactionary Imperative."

October 18, 2007 at 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

A further recommendation - not as a reactionary history of the American revolution, but as a fascinatingly detailed account of the character of the British government in the Georgian era - is Eric Towers's "Dashwood: The Man and the Myth" (1986). Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-81) is often regarded either as a sinister character or as a buffoon for his involvement with the Hell Fire Club, but he was a serious and influential politician for most of his long life, which itself says something about the character of British politics in the Augustan age. One of the most interesting bits of information Towers provides is an explanation of the circumstances which led to the utterance of Dr. Johnson's famous apophthegm that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

October 18, 2007 at 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we are speaking about books describing the "Universalist" secular pseudo-religion, I would suggest a book which shows the historic aspect of the problem.

[http://www.johnreilly.info/homa.htm]

Adam Zamoyski's "Holy Madness"



You can find a review in above-linked site, although it downplays the central thema of the book. According to Zamoyski the international patriotism in the French style was the secular equivalent of religion, but with one crucial difference - they expected to attain their Paradise on Earth, by the simple expedient of expelling kings and holding elections.

The book describes the first incarnation of the secular progressive pseudo-religion - the French cult of freedom, starting with the American Revolution and ending with the Paris Commune. It doesn't describe the American Revolution itself, but only the international crusaders of freedom such as Lafayette.

There are also interesting photos of the relics of revolutionary saints etc.

I would suggest also Voegelin, but since most readers here seem to be rather firmly atheist, I don't think he would be very popular. His theory, however is the best explanation of the suicidal attempts to construct Paradise on Earth. (Note that he misuses the name Gnosis).

Baduin

October 18, 2007 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Great post. Way too much here for me to digest and comment about intelligently, at least for now.

October 18, 2007 at 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

On Voegelin's use (or misuse) of the term Gnosis - there DOES seem to be some continuity between "old" and "new" gnosticisms.

For example, in the period of the English civil war there was a great upwelling of mystical-magical belief tied to political Puritanism, as pointedly satirized by Butler in his "Hudibras." Here is the description of the Puritan knight's squire Ralpho:

"For mystick learning, wond'rous able,
In magick Talisman and Cabal,
Whose primitive tradition reaches
As far as Adam's first green breeches:
Deep-sighted in intelligences,
Ideas, atoms, influences,
And much of Terra Incognita,
Th'intelligible world, cou'd say:
A deep occult philospher,
As learn'd as the wild Irish are,
Or Sir Agrippa; for profound,
And solid lying much renown'd.
He Anthroposophus, and Floud,
And Jacob Behmen understood:
Knew many and amulet and cham,
That wou'd do neither good nor harm;
In Rosy-crucian lore as learned,
As he that Vere adeptus earned..."

Agrippa is Henry Cornelius Agrippa, author of "De occulta philosophia," a notorious compilation of the early sixteenth century; Jacob Behmen (Boehme) the cobbler and theosophist, author of "Aurora," "Theosophia revelata," and other works of Christian mysticism strongly influenced by Neoplatonism and alchemy; Fludd, the English metaphysician, author of "De utriusque cosmi historia" and other sumptuously engraved works published by the deBrys of Oppenheim, a firm strongly associated with Rosicrucianism. Later in the poem, Hudibras consults Sidrophel the Rosicrucian in an attempt to divine the future. Sidrophel is a caricature of Cromwell's court astrologer, William Lilly.

Similarly at the time of the supposed Enlightenment in France we find characters like Cagliostro and the comte de St.-Germain, Court de Gebelin's revival of the tarot, and the bizarre efflorescence of hautes-grades Freemasonry. Russia before the Bolshevik revolution was shot through with similar irrationalism: it gave the world Mme Blavatsky, after all, and the court of the Romanovs played host to a string of mystics and occultists, including Papus (Gerard Encausse, founder of the Martinist Order) before taking up with Rasputin. The premier journalistic apologist for the Soviet Union in the West, Walter Duranty of the New York Times, was an intimate of Aleister Crowley, "the Great Beast," long before taking up with a greater one in the person of Stalin.

These are just a few examples of links between old-fashioned gnosticism and that of the sort described by Voegelin. No doubt a consultation and comparison of the voluminous files at the Hoover Institution with some of the papers at the Warburg library could turn up lots more.

October 18, 2007 at 11:49 AM  
Anonymous darrenbk said...

"Reason" and "Rationality" can be seen as mystical symbols, such that arguing that something is arational or contrary to reason doesn't say much about it. In fact it could simply added to the enlightenment list of "values", showing some contradiction with the liberty-equality-fraternity, but of course its all contradictory anyway.. I guess the law of non-contradiction can't be applied too well when terms are so broadly defined. But then calling someting "Mystical" may simply be calling it a term that is broadly defined (and valued positively, acted upon). So you are back where you started..

October 18, 2007 at 12:30 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

mencius: You really are smart, but your are simply too wordy. You could cut half or 80% of the words out of your posts without loosing much content. As it is, I stopped reading 40% of the way through.
The same post, but without saying the things that you had said so many times before, might have been worth reading all of.

October 18, 2007 at 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

On cameralism - neo- or otherwise - let us note that there is an excellent living example today in Liechtenstein. Its current ruler, H.S.H. Hans-Adam II, appears to have carried successfully into action points 1-5 and 8 of Mencius's post. His family, which lost something like 25 of its castles and their associated demesnes in countries outside its sovereign territory, and which had to sell off its collection of old masters' paintings to make ends meet, has recovered its fortune, now comfortably in the billions. In 2003 Hans-Adam won a referendum from his subjects granting a new constitution, which allowed him to dismiss and appoint members of his government at will.

October 18, 2007 at 1:13 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Okay, I'm ready to respond.

It's a mystery cult because it displaces theistic traditions by replacing metaphysical superstitions with philosophical mysteries, such as humanity, progress, equality, democracy, justice, environment, community, peace, etc.

Isn't there an enormous difference between metaphysical superstitions and moral assumptions? "God exists," "Jesus saves," and "God created man in His own image" are statements of fact which are either true or false, albeit potentially unknowable. "Peace is good," "community is good," and "equality is good" are statements of value which can be neither true nor false. To equate the two categories strikes me as lunacy.

Third: a good government is a well-managed sovereign corporation. Good government is efficient management. Efficient management is profitable management. A profitable government has no incentive to break its promises, abuse its citizens (who are its capital), or attack its neighbors.

This is merely your own moral assumption, no more or less justified than Dawkins's. Internet libertarians are all about efficiency and profits, but that position is not inherently more correct than the proposition that the purpose of government is to provide liberty.

Frankly, any system of thought that can convincingly present this history as a case of progress is capable of anything. Readers may, of course, differ with my interpretation of events. But hopefully at this point they at least understand why I see Universalism as a parasitic tradition.

Your alternate perspectives are both interesting and illuminating, but I think disingenuous as well. You manage to lump together Nazism, Communism, and western Democracy as three facets of the same thing, but only during those times when they led to war. The overwhelming success of Western Democracy of preventing direct wars goes unmentioned, while the "proxy wars" which are almost always wars between dictatorships and not democracies get blamed on the democracies as well, as if there would have been no wars in Asia or Africa without Western intervention.

As to whether the movement in America, for example, from equal rights only given to white men, through the women's movement and the civil rights movement represents progress, that's another value question. Obviously if you come up with an alternate system of values, seeing it as progress is crazy. That doesn't prove anything other than that different values lend different interpretations, a tautology if there ever was one.

October 18, 2007 at 3:21 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

A commendable post. I had been wondering what was so awfully Universalist about Dawkins (all I had read by him was The Ancestor's Tale), and now it seems all the crazy things you've been writing really are apt critiques of him and his "Zeitgeist". I too wonder how non-supernaturalists can have such faith in the progress of ideas they consider good.

I don't know if I would be as hasty in decrying the Oxford Union. I made the case here for ignoring Hitler with regard to America, but the same might be said of a Britain unconcerned with empire and hegemony.

Thank you for all the links in your "reactionary history" collection. Thomas Woods' "Politically Incorrect Guide to American History" might be considered a reactionary counterpart to Howard Zinn's (though he praises the war of independence as conservative), but although it is quite sweet it is also short. I disagreed with Rothbard's rather Univeralist-esque interpretation of the American "Revolution" (I agree with Woods that it was secession and not a revolution) here. Bryan Caplan has a similar interpretation as mine and asks whether it was worth it (I say yes because I am generally in favor of secession to lower exit costs and induce policy competition) here.

I reviewed Bertrand de Jouvenel's "On Power" here.

Crime is not rampant. The "great sixties freakout" is over. I discuss this and issues related to that here. Glen Loury has discussed at bloggingheads.tv and elsewhere the puzzle that the increase in punitiveness induced by the GSF did not subside after the crime problem did.

A recent post at Overcoming Bias dissed foreign aid, and some UR-typical themes were discussed. The very next post was more along the lines of Subversive Pinko than Mencius Moldbug though.

I would have hoped you would not persist in your bizarre claims about Palestine being "the jewel of the Blue Empire". I even e-mailed you a study you told me you had already read in which it is shown that all those horrible lefty college professors prefer Israel to Palestine 2 to 1. Perhaps you should read less Dershowitz and more Walt & Mearsheimer.

No effective effort against the perpetrators has been mounted
Bullshit, the invasion of Afghanistan was very effective and al Qaeda have not been able to pull off an attack in America since, even though they repeatedly carried out major attacks (though few as major as 9/11) before. They barely exist as an organization now and just produce videos for their seemingly retarded fans and imitators. Nation building has gone shittily, but that really has jack to do with the war on terror (which should be reframed as a war between the United States and a certain subset of all the islamic terrorists).

I am surprised you didn't take note of Proudhon's attack on Blanc's reversal of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", which even a reactionary can enjoy.

Dickens was on the side opposite Exeter during the Governor Eyre hubbub.

October 18, 2007 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

One final point.

The single factual belief you attribute to Universalism -- the belief that all races are identical "above the neck" -- was not present in what you call the "most democratic" period in U.S. history, in the former USSR, or (mostly obviously) in Nazism, so it's not remotely relevant to this post.

October 18, 2007 at 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

So, if I'm following, the morbidity posed by Universalism is not the obvious and steady decline of individual freedom (a questionable commodity under any form of government), but the disasterous consequences of instability - past, present, and future. The Universalists believe that they can control "progress" - but they can't, and they won't.

October 18, 2007 at 5:02 PM  
Anonymous bob said...

Great reactionary history. The military coup d'etat will come in Hillary's first term. We will get our Franco/Pinochet and love it.

By the way, Moore's law ended 3 or 4 years ago, and there has been NO significant increase in CPU clock rate since then. Otherwise my new MacPro would be sporting a 10 to 12 Ghz chip.

October 18, 2007 at 6:19 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Moore's Law concerns the number of transistors on a chip, and it shows no sign of stopping. Bob seems to have fallen prey to the Megahertz Myth.

October 18, 2007 at 8:43 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Universalism must be a hardy infection indeed. It is the underlying motivator of everyone from Lincoln to Hitler to Gandhi to bin Laden. It rules everyone from the starry-eyed internationalists who work for NGOs to the rabidly xenophobic and nationalistic Kim Jong Il. It has infected both sides of every war in the past couple of centuries. The only people who seem to have immunity are the you, maybe a few libertarians and reactionaries, and the nations of Dubai and Singapore, perhaps China. It seems like the memetic equivalent of E. Coli -- essentially omnipresent, usually relatively benign, occasionally pathological.

IMO, you place entirely too much responsibility on the back of one little meme. Let me propose an alternative theory -- what bugs you, and is the cause of all the phenomena you dislike, is simply modernity, which is to say, the radical changes in both technology and social structure that started roughy 250 years ago. You might be able to incite mobs with Universalist rhetoric, but the only reason there's a mob to incite in the first place is because of the breakdown of feudal relationships, peasants forced out of their land streaming into the cities, the growth of a working class, the rise in power of a literate middle class. Industrialization and mass communication are much more significant forces than the infectious power of some abstruse ethical ideal.

No effective effort against the perpetrators (of 9/11) has been mounted, probably because any successful American military effort brings political prestige to the American right and threatens to reignite the old era of nationalist jingoism, a threat which terrifies the American left - and for good reason.

Are you seriously suggesting that it's the American left that is somehow responsible for the lack of action against al Qaeda? That is manifestly absurd. The "left" has approximately zero political power. The Democratic party, even if they qualified as leftists, have been a supremely ineffectual opposition. So whatever action or inaction has been taken on the war on terror, responsibility must be laid almost entirely on the Bush administration.

Let's suppose that al Qaeda had destroyed, along with its actal targets, the New York Times, Harvard, Berkeley, and every other center of what I presume you think of as the left. Would US actions have been any different? Would we have invaded more countries? We'd need conscription to do so, I think you'd find opposition to that would transcend the bounds of the left. Would we/should we have dropped nukes on Tora Bora? Instituted Nazi-style collective retaliation in Iraq? What, exactly, have the nefarious leftists prevented the US from doing?

October 18, 2007 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

As much as I enjoyed it, I must contest several points of your reactionary history.

1) Most importantly, I feel you give too short shrift to the slow march of capitalism around the world. Government is probably worse than Adam Smith's worst nightmares, but despite intense resistance, capitalism does seem to be spreading, and the dramatic decline in transportation costs is begining to give the world a truly global economy. I think you can trace much of what you label anti-universalism much more directly to industrialization/globalization disrupting traditional societies. If you compare, say the 1910 Russian political economy to the modern Saudi state, you will find remarkable similiarities, and remarkably similar production of violent utopians.

2) You seem to assign almost no important role to Europe after the American revolution except to destroy itself. I find this odd, but also oddly compelling. What precisely were they doing for those 150 odd years? Surely all that colonialism did something.

3) Regardless of any decline in culture, it is hard to argue that Westerners are not better off today than they were 100 years ago, or even 50. Our government is definately worse, but given the vast wealth industrialization brings, we can afford much worse government. While abomidable, FedCo is a price I am willing to pay if it also comes with Google, 747s, and container ships.

4) On a purely stylistic note, this post is far too long. I appreciate long posts, but at somepoint it becomes difficult to discuss the whole thing, this should be broken into at least 3. NB.

October 19, 2007 at 12:31 AM  
Anonymous Randy said...

SB,

Re; "...industrialization/globalization disrupting traditional societies."

Good point. I'm thinking that the dramatic expansion of free trade has been directly responsible for the equally dramatic improvements in quantity and quality of human life on the planet over the last few centuries, and that Universalism is an unfortunate response. An excuse for non-participants, and a source of instability.

October 19, 2007 at 3:41 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

Great post; very thought provoking. There are some things with which I strongly disagree, but will need some time to assemble intelligent counter-arguments.

October 19, 2007 at 4:48 AM  
Anonymous winter said...

A good post, but I think singapore makes an odd case for neocarmelism.

The core argument for neocarmelism is that a government focused on property development and profit maximization will not bother itself with regulating, say, the contents of your colon, any more than Comcast tries to get you to stop smoking in bars.

But Singapore is a non-democratic country, focused on profit, and it has an extremely invasive regulatory environment, quite unlike more laissez-faire Hong Kong and Dubai. Does this seem to be a contradiction?

October 19, 2007 at 10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neo caMERal ism. Cognate to "new chamber". Neo carmel would be more like, new dessert filling. (The rest of the last post was good, I just have to nitpick about spelling sometimes.)

October 19, 2007 at 11:13 AM  
Anonymous tggp said...

I just read the first chapter of James Stephens' "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", and though I have never read Mill I found it quite lame. He complains that Mill never proved some thesis because it can't be proved, then as an argument against his theories says it conflicts with most religions and doctrines of morality, without ever proving that they themselves are of any worth. I find it particularly funny when he notes the coercion of the French Revolution as if it were an argument for the acceptability of coercion. And this is supposed to be a reactionary history? Utilitarianism has more to worry from an infinite universe than the fact that it contradicts previous moral theories. Even though I think it's all basically meaningless (I have more confidence in the power of simple positivism than David Stove does in "What is wrong with our thoughts") I still sometimes find myself sometimes discussing morality/philosophy, as I did here and here at my blog.

October 19, 2007 at 10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I see Richard Dawkins mentioned, all I can think about is how if leading atheists had a more likeable spokesperson, someone who cogently went about the business of disproving the Torah, Koran, Bible and other religious texts on historical and scientific grounds politely by using the scientific method, how the whole movement could become more mainstream and pick up speed. Due to the internet, a well-reasoned atheistic anaylsis that didn't insult people's beliefs, but merely politely show them the inconsistences, the outright fabrications, the obvious mis-'truths' about their religious beliefs could politely and gregariously relieve people of their religious burdens and fears of lousy afterlifes, etc.

But there we have Dawkins and Hitchens, two kinda (and in Hitchens case, VERY) unlikeable people. The younger fellow, Sam-Whatshisname from Stanford is a much more pleasant subject, but his equiviocation of mainline religions with Zeus-worship is guaranteed to turn people off. Dont mock, but pleasantly show people what is proven wrong, and proven right indisputably through science, and admit when things aren't clear historically but are sitll being researched. Until this approach is taken, atheism will always turn as many people cold as it mentally stimulates.

October 20, 2007 at 1:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bit of suggestion: "the business of disproving the Torah, Koran, Bible and other religious texts on historical and scientific grounds " can be a lot of fun, certainly, but it isn't atheism. It can serve as a useful propaganda, obviously. It can also be useful for anti-Christianism or anti-Judaism etc. But it has nothing to do with aTheism.

If you want to promote atheism, I suggest you start with disproving Platon, Aristoteles, Plotinus and St. Thomas.

(David Stove at least knew what to criticise).

And be careful with the "scientific method". This too must be justified, and unless you are baron Munhausen, you cannot get out of the mud by pulling on your own hair.

(There is nothing wrong with science - as long as you don't try to use it to discuss more fundamental issues.)

Baduin

October 20, 2007 at 11:25 AM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

This has nothing to do with the current post, maybe you should have an open thread.

I've started reading Prince and anti-prince in parallel, I didn't finish and I don't think I will because it seems pretty clear where they're going (I've read Prince before, but many years ago). Machiavelli seems to advocate a totally ruthless policy geared towards grabbing as much land as possible, even if the only way to hold it is to destroy all the cities, and his primary warning is that after betraying someone make sure he's dead or so damaged as to be incapable of retaliating. Fred's counterarguments are 1) some things just aren't to be done even if they are advantageous (for exampling, murdering children so they won't grow up to contest your title), 2) the motivation makes no sense (the value of territory comes from th productvity of its people. There's no point in conqeuring productive cities to turn them into wasteland) and 3) grossly evil policies will make you hated not just by individuals you have harmed but by everyone that reads the papers. In particular, Cesare Borgia, who Machiavelli holds up as a role model, was murdered at a young age, and this wasn't some fluke as Machiavelli seems to claim, but rather the predictable result of his evil policies.

I think Fred was right: monarchs that acted like Borgia were likely to wind up like Borgia.

October 20, 2007 at 6:53 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

Baduin,

Re; "There is nothing wrong with science - as long as you don't try to use it to discuss more fundamental issues."

The scientific method is pragmatic - it follows the path of what works, not what is. As for the "more fundamental issues", I think that the scientific method is quite capable of dealing with them. While the realm of the metaphysical may be beyond the senses, the results of beliefs are not. We know, for example, that those who prioritize an idea over the lives of individuals have been known to demand that sacrifice be made to advance the idea - and not infrequently very great sacrifice.

October 21, 2007 at 2:32 AM  
Blogger Tanstaafl said...

As nice as it was to see Dawkins hoisted by his own petard, his Flying Time Ghost, your observations on Universalism and progressivism were far more fascinating.

Here's an interesting bit of "reactionary" history: The Money Masters - How International Bankers Gained Control of America. You touched a bit on it in mentioning the Fed and fractional reserve banking, but the thread goes back much farther. Before the Civil War and the Rebellion, it touches those events and more, back to Europe. It explains not only the Triumph of Good but the oddly stable Balance of Power.

Universalist/Progressive history focuses, to a fault, on personalities. For an ideology obsessed with unequal distribution why is it that they don't want anyone to follow the money or teach anyone how it really works?

October 21, 2007 at 7:51 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

Can we have an April 1 post on Mencian neocaramelism please?

October 22, 2007 at 4:10 PM  
Blogger AMcGuinn said...

I was thinking neocarmelism was a reference to Clint Eastwood.

A man's gotta know his limitations.

October 23, 2007 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

"Universalism" is an odd appellation for what you think you may be describing, but I seriously doubt any notion of "univeralism" is compatible with Dawkins. Since your perspective is historically teleological, you must be Jewish, Marxist, or both. Christian have a similar messianic sense, especially the fundamentalist type that interprets prophesy (despite biblical proscriptions) of the end of the world. Methinks your real target is more in the vicinity of Robert Wright and his thesis "non-zero." You seem to be confusing complication with complexity, but ideologues often get confused.

October 28, 2007 at 2:37 PM  
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March 2, 2009 at 9:40 PM  
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March 6, 2009 at 8:56 PM  

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