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Friday, September 18, 2020

Suicide Of The Liberals?

Earlier this week emailer George sent me a link to a new article by Gary Saul Morson, a professor of Humanities at Northwestern University. As many of you will already know, Morson is fascinated by parallels between the current crisis of our constitutional order and the pre-Revolutionary period in Russian history. His latest article focuses on the almost mind boggling upsurge of revolutionary terror in Russia during the first decade of the 20th century--and the liberal embrace of this virtual orgy of violence. That liberal reaction--which Morson wants us to see in our current "mainstream" progressives and liberals--led directly to the Bolshevik Revolution, with violence on a scale unparalleled in previous history.

I'll provide some fairly extensive excerpts and you can judge for yourself as to the aptness of the comparisons between Russian liberals and those of our own day and in our own country. For all the historical, social, and political differences between then in Russia and now in America, I do find the parallels to be striking. Morson clearly wants us to consider those parallels and to find common elements that underlie revolutionary violence, and it's there that I question whether his explanation of the common elements is completely satisfactory.

What I'd like to do here is to point out elements of current events that remind one of central themes in the thought of Mircea Eliade. Eliade saw many parallels between the thinking and acting of "archaic man," the man of "traditional" societies of any age, and the ideologies of the modern Western world. Thus:


Eliade notes that, in traditional societies, myth represents the absolute truth about primordial time. According to the myths, this was the time when the Sacred first appeared, establishing the world's structure—myths claim to describe the primordial events that made society and the natural world be that which they are. Eliade argues that all myths are, in that sense, origin myths: "myth, then, is always an account of a creation."


That may seem abstract, so let's draw out some more concrete implications. For "archaic" man, the ordered, structured world is brought forth by the gods from a primordial chaos. Creation or, better, origin myths expresses this worldview. However, for the man of any society, we are faced with the reality that our existence always threatens to slip back into chaos--more so at some times than at others. Thus, a key part of traditional religion has always been to seek to "regenerate" the ordered world through rituals. Those rituals typically occur at the New Year--or other significant times, such as the spring planting or harvest. The rituals often include elements that invoke an overturning of the entire order of the world or of human society, to make way for the new creation or regeneration of a perfect order. Such disorder can obviously lapse into outright violence.

So, for example, in The Myth of the Eternal Return (1949), Eliade describes the ancient Babylonian New Year rituals:


The first act of the ceremony ... marks a regression into the mythical period before the Creation; all forms are supposed to be confounded ... every feature suggests universal confusion, the abolition of order and hierarchy, "orgy," chaos. We witness, one might say, a "deluge" that annihilates all humanity in order to prepare the way for a new and regenerated human species. (p. 57)


I suggest that what we are seeing in the chaotic riots and "peaceful" violence is an unconscious reenactment of these types of rituals--indeed, the ritual element in Leftist demonstrations should be very apparent. The prominence that sexual disorder has for the modern Left--the "trans" movement (I think 'movement' is the right word) epitomizes and evokes the 'abolition of order'--is a strong indication of what's going on: a ritual evocation of chaos that will, by magical reenactment, lead to a 'regenerated human species.'

Of course, for the man of traditional society, for whom regeneration is achieved by a return to a divinely ordered reality, a clear goal remains in view. But for modern revolutionaries of a Marxist bent, man has taken over the divine ordering role: man will create or reorder his own reality. Once again, the "trans" movement is a perfect expression of this revolutionary magic ritualism. Trannies are the perfect symbol of the New Man of the Left who lead their devotees to a new world order. This is simply an updating of the Marxist myth:


Thus, at the end of the Marxist philosophy of history, lies the age of gold of the archaic eschatologies. ... Here, for the militant Marxist, lies the secret ... the aggravation of evil hastens the final deliverance, so the militant Marxist of our day reads, in the drama provoked by the pressure of history, a necessary evil, a premonitory symptom of the approaching victory that will put an end forever to all historical "evil." (p. 149)


And with the end of all historical evil will come the regeneration of the human species. This is what the deliberate evocation of chaos, the upheaval in social order and the abolition of human nature is about. Not, as for archaic man, a regeneration of divinely instituted order, but a new reality created by the absolutized will of man. This is the urge to totalitarian social control that we see so clearly expressed in current events.

So, excerpts from Suicide Of The Liberals. See if you think it fits in with what Eliade is describing. Recall--Morson is describing the reaction of Russian "liberals" to revolutionary violence--the deliberate aggravation of chaos through violence that was supposed to regenerate the human species and led to the Bolshevik attempt at just that regeneration. My contention is that the elites, having lost their religious faith, had no spiritual resources to fall back on to resist the urges of revolutionary will. This is the situation Western man finds himself in. Having lost Christian faith, our elites are susceptible to the radicalized Marxist version of ancient myths:


How did educated, liberal society respond to such terrorism? What was the position of the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party and its deputies in the Duma (the parliament set up in 1905)? Though Kadets advocated democratic, constitutional procedures, and did not themselves engage in ­terrorism, they aided the terrorists in any way they could. Kadets collected money for terrorists, turned their homes into safe houses, and called for total amnesty for arrested terrorists who pledged to continue the mayhem. Kadet Party central committee member N. N. Shchepkin declared that the party did not regard terrorists as criminals at all, but as saints and martyrs. 

...

Not just lawyers, teachers, doctors, and engineers, but even industrialists and bank directors raised money for the terrorists. Doing so signaled advanced opinion and good manners. ... when the Bolsheviks gained control, their organ of terror, the Cheka, “liquidated” members of all opposing parties, beginning with the Kadets. Why didn’t the liberals and businessmen see it coming?

Lenin, ..., was by no means the only bloodthirsty Russian radical. In 1907, Ivan Pavlov ... published The Purification of Mankind, which divided humanity into ethical races. In this analysis, exploiters, vaguely and broadly identified, constituted a race, “morally inferior to our animal predecessors,” which must be exterminated, children and all, by the morally superior race, whose best members were the terrorists themselves. Remarkably enough, this program evoked no indignation, among other Maximalists or even among other socialists, however moderate. ...

And yet the liberals refused to use their position in the Duma to make constitutionalism work. They would not participate in determining the government budget but confined their activities to denouncing the government and defending terrorists.


Next, Morson describes a book written by a Russian liberal (Struve) of the time who opposed the terrorism. The book was almost universally rejected and even condemned by the liberal elites:

 

The volume’s unforgivable sin, Frank explained, lay in its

    "criticism of the basic sacred dogma of the radical intelligentsia—the “mystique” of revolution."


Criticism, in other words, of the dogma of revolutionary abolition of order. The notion that radical upheaval is healing and regenerating--an unconscious appeal to mythic thought. But we know when this urge is dominated by the raw human will and urge for power that it leads only to tragedy.

Next Morson recounts the description of the "intelligent"--the typical member of the intelligentsia, shallowly educated but imbued with radical ideology. That ideology leads to a total alienation from normal human values, a transvaluation of values for the New Man of the supposed New Order--in the imagination of Marxist true believers who have excised acceptance of a divine order from their minds:


Three characteristics identified a classical intelligent. To begin with, an intelligent identified primarily as an intelligent, rather than by his social class, profession, ethnic group, or other social category.


In other words, the intelligent has separated himself from his fellow man. Those who disagree with him are, for all intents and purposes, a different and lower species, without value. We hear this rhetoric constantly now.


Most important, and of greatest concern, was how intelligents thought. An intelligent signed on to a set of beliefs regarded as totally certain, scientifically proven, and absolutely obligatory for any moral person. A strict intelligent had to subscribe to some ideology—whether populist, Marxist, or anarchist—that was committed to the total destruction of the existing order and its replacement by a utopia that would, at a stroke, eliminate every human ill. This aspiration was often described as chiliastic (or apocalyptic), and, as has been observed, it is no accident that many of the most influential intelligents, from Chernyshevsky to Stalin, came from clerical families or had studied in seminaries. For Struve, the mentality of the intelligentsia constituted a cruel parody of religion, preserving “the external features of religiosity without its content.”

An intelligent could not be a believer, which is another reason no one would have considered Tolstoy (let alone that conservative Dostoevsky) an intelligent. They accepted atheism on faith, were spiritually devoted to materialism, and proselytized determinism. They based these commitments on “science,” a word they used to mean not a disinterested process of discovery based on experiment and evidence, but—and here the reason became perfectly circular —a metaphysics of materialism and determinism.

Still worse, intelligentsia “science” entailed an assertion that the world worked by blind, purposeless force and yet, as if guided by providence, was guaranteed to progress in human terms and reach moral perfection. (As people say today, the arc of history bends toward justice.) Berdyaev quoted theologian Vladimir Soloviev’s paraphrase of “the intelligentsia syllogism”: “Man is descended from the apes; therefore love one another.” In the same spirit, Bulgakov observed that “the intelligentsia asserts that the personality is wholly a product of the environment, and at the same time suggests to it that it improve its surroundings, like Baron M√ľnchausen pulling himself out of the swamp by his own hair.”


For the intelligentsia, science is the handmaiden of ideology. "Settled science" means simply that it conforms to the vision of a reality that can lead to total transformation.


If there was one “philosopheme” (Struve’s term) shared by intelligents it was the assumption that all questions must be judged politically. Thus, one could discredit a scientific theory not by logic or evidence but by calling its implications “reactionary” (“and what don’t we call reactionary!”). The Soviets banned, at one time or another, genetics, relativity, and quantum theory—not on criteria from their respective disciplines, but on the basis of their supposed incompatibility with “dialectical ­materialism.”

Such politicism disparaged philanthropy as “a ­betrayal of all mankind and its eternal salvation for the sake of a few individuals close at hand.” During the famine of 1891–92, when Tolstoy and Chekhov engaged in famine relief, Lenin advocated hoarding food to bring revolution closer (“the worse, the better”).


And yet liberals, who declined to actually engage in terrorism even as they supported it, having lost any connection to a viable faith in the divine order of creation, were powerless to resist the siren call to revolution:

 

Though some liberals recognized their differences from the radicals, most acted like intelligentsia wannabes who were unwilling to acknowledge, even to themselves, that their values were essentially different. Socialized to regard anything conservative as reprehensible—and still worse, as a social faux pas—they contrived ways to justify radical intolerance and violence as forced, understandable, and noble. They had to, since the fundamental emotional premise of liberalism—hostility to those ignorant, bigoted, morally depraved people on the right—almost always proved more compelling than professed intellectual ­commitments.


How often do we hear the old chestnut, that anyone who isn't a liberal when young lacks a soul? The presumption is that they'll grow out of the craziness, but we see in the progressive political elite that the craziest are also among the oldest, in very many cases:


One sometimes hears that “the pendulum is bound to swing back.” But how does one know there is a pendulum at all, rather than—let us say—a snowball accelerating downhill? It is unwise to comfort oneself with metaphors. When a party is willing to push its power as far as it can go, it will keep going until it meets sufficient opposition.

 

23 comments:

  1. I have used that pendulum in talking about what is going on in California’s government. I believe Gavin Newsom and his cronies have pushed the pendulum about as far as it can go. Surely there are moderate Democrats and those No Party Preference voters (the latter make up 1/3 of the registered voters now; the Dems have only 46%) who are fed up with what they have done to ALL Californians. That is how and when I think of the pendulum swinging. Reagan Democrats come to mind, as do all of those who joined the minority Republicans in ousting former governor Gray Davis. They went for Arnold Schwarzenegger over MEChA Cruz Bustamante, as well. Arnold ended up not being spectacular, but Cruz would have been a total disaster.

    Sooner or later that snowball hits the bottom of the hill.

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    1. Sooner or later? And what happens when it hits bottom? My fear is that America lacks the institutional spiritual resources to stop the slide.

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    2. I would need to know your definition of “institutional spiritual resources” before I could respond...

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    3. I guess I mean something like this: that by and large the churches in America have abandoned almost any pretension to guiding human life in all but the vaguest of terms, especially as that guidance would affect public life. Instead, they've largely assimilated to progressivism, in fact if not always in theory. As a result, individuals are left on their own with no institutional voices providing an alternative to progressive orthodoxy. Same goes for education.

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    4. If you didn't see the actor Jim Caviezel's interview last night by Shannon Bream you should watch it. He was plugging his new movie 'Infidel' but the conversation moved into religion where Caviezel unloads on today's church leadership.

      DJL

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    5. In fact I had exactly that in mind. Not that it hadn't occurred to me before, just that the interview made an impression.

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    6. I am one who fell away from institutional religion when I realized how hypocritical my church had become… I didn’t need intercession with God, preferring to speak to Him directly, and then our “institutional church”, where we had been regular members for years, let us down in our time of need. That clinched it.

      Having been raised in a family where belief in God was a given from earliest childhood, where one’s conscience was developed early, where decency was the norm, and Christianity was taught by parents who demonstrated it every day, it was easy to give up what had become so wrong.

      I don't believe that the persons like me who left their institutional churches because they were not living up to the creed they were purported to support will just go away and be quiet. We didn't leave our beliefs behind when we left our churches. We left because of our beliefs. Rather like Ronald Reagan, when he said he didn't leave the Democrat Party, it left me, we are still the same.

      I' m not sure any institution could reverse the course the Liberals are trying to take our country on. But having seen what has happened in the past, I still believe in our American ability to reverse the course that others are trying to force upon us. I like to believe there are great numbers of Americans in my state and across the country who have reached a point where they won't put up with what is happening.

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    7. The point is that when there are no secondary, non-governmental institutions with social authority the individual is largely left to fend for himself against the state. It's an unequal battle, and the goal of all totalitarian movements.

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  2. I assume that you mean "the craziest are also among the oldest, in very manY cases:"

    "Socialized to regard anything conservative as reprehensible—and still worse, as a social *faux pas*..."
    Akin to Hillary on Deplorables, as socially beneath the Educated classes.

    My sense of that period in Russian history is that, as discredited as Czarist conservatism was, it still may've been able to hang on for quite some time, but for Russia's ass-whipping by Falkenhayn/ Ludendorff in 1915-17.
    If the US can avoid such a disaster, we may be able to muddle thru, until the Leftist virus is controlled.
    However, the other risk is likely the mismanaged collapse of the $$ as the reserve currency.

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  3. The American Bolsheviks seem to have either run out of steam - or have been given new marching orders from their financiers and hidden leadership. Perhaps the poll numbers caused them to rethink the revolution and let the election play out. Either way, they'll be able to recommence after the election, no matter the victor; but it would a softer coup with Biden in place. At least that is likely their thinking.

    The problem American Bolsheviks face is the lack of a sizable downtrodden lower class with significant grievances against the government. Not that democratic politicians have not been trying to increase the number of the unemployed with the latest virus pandemic*, but also create wage envy with cries for a mandatory minimum wage. Unlike early 20th century Russia, the U.S. has a middle class which is still sizable. It is this middle class that would have to be turned against the country - but for what? Something better? Most are not that gullible and are comfortable with their economic security and lifestyle. If their economic security could be broken, then these anarchists might get the numbers they would need, which we saw in a small way during the riots where those out of work and out of school due to the pandemic* and sympathetic to "the cause" had free time to take to the streets.

    DJL

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  4. Again, I would recommend Codevilla's Millenarian Mobs - the last two paragraphs:

    "The logic of millennialist revolution is very much alive among us. History teaches that the names of the evils—of the supposedly oppressed and their oppressors, as well as their grievances—are interchangeable and irrelevant. Today, we need not imagine that the corporate magnates, the hard-bitten politicians, the FBI officials, who kneel draped in Kente cloth in penitence for “white racist America,” who declare solidarity with the mobs that deface statues—that any of them believe in anything other than their own power and advantage. Nor need we imagine that the majority of those mobs’ members are doing anything other than enjoying a holiday from the law. Protagonists and pawns are part of a revolutionary avalanche that must flow by its own logic.

    Today, as in the Middle Ages, the mobs, the fires and desecrations, the ever-present focus on “the Jews!” have nothing to do with any truth or with the details of any particular event or accusation. What sense does it make for a mob in Brussels, Belgium, to tear down a statue of Julius Caesar in protest against four U.S. policemen’s killing of a black man whom they were arresting? Or for that matter, for a mob in Philadelphia to deface a monument to an unknown soldier of the Revolutionary War of 1776, or for Bostonians to organize the removal of a statue of Abraham Lincoln? Alas, the millennialists and their mob do not need specific grievances against specific targets. The civilization itself is the only real target; its existence and the mob’s lack of complete mastery over it are the only grievances that really matter. They need know only that the civilization they are attacking has become vulnerable, undefended, and may be safely treated with contempt. If we do not share that contempt, history shows we have no choice but to treat the millennialist mob as the enemies they are."

    History may not always repeat itself exactly, but it is close enough for us to recognize the pitfalls and avoid them.

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    1. So who knows history any longer? Now it's "history" that's taught in the schools.

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    2. Not all of the old books have been burned...yet.

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    3. No, but while people weren't paying attention at least one generation has been brought up in ignorance of history.

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    4. Whitey's patriarchy tryna keep me down!

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    5. "Critical race theory is a conscious attempt by Marxists to destabilise the West using race as a vector to create social unrest in order to establish conditions under which a revolution against capitalism can occur."

      https://twitter.com/GreenwoodOutlaw/status/1307026744570982407

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  5. In less than erudite terms, all of this seems to boil down to, "get them before they get us". And yes, they will try to get us first. It's the natural way of totalitarians.

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    1. Except conservatives have all the guns, and they aren't going to turn them in.

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  6. Marxism and Keynesianism is a method of understanding and comparing the works of influential economists John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx. Both men's works has fostered respective schools of economic thought (Marxian economics and Keynesian economics) that have had significant influence in various academic circles as well as in influencing government policy of various states. Keynes' work found popularity in developed liberal economies following the Great Depression and World War II, most notably Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the United States in which strong industrial production was backed by strong unions and government support. Marx's work, with varying degrees of faithfulness, led the way to a number of socialist states, notably the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. The immense influence of both Marxian and Keynesian schools has led to numerous comparisons of the work of both economists along with synthesis of both schools.

    For Marx and Keynes, their respective understandings of social hierarchy and class conflicts have similar foundations yet substantial differences in their relative understandings. Marx saw class conflict as the primary driver towards social change and development (as per dialectical materialism), with the growing economic divide between the capitalist class and proletariat resulting in class conflict and subsequent socialist revolution.[8] Furthermore, Marx understood this class conflict as inherent within the structure of capitalism as the establishment of hierarchical classes brings with it the foundations on which conflict arises.[13]

    In contrast, Keynes viewed social conflict as a fault in capitalism which can be adjusted with public intervention into the economy as "[p]ublic intervention is a more elevated response to a natural state of inter-class conflict which feeds into itself".[14] Keynesian economics therefore acted as a middle-way for many developed liberal capitalist economies to appease the working class in lieu of a socialist revolution.[15] Keynes himself also argued against the creation of a class war, noting that "[t]he class war will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie".[16]

    Despite these differences, Keynes and Marx both saw that laissez-faire capitalist economies inherently stratify social classes. Nevertheless, Keynes had a significantly more optimistic view in regards to the effectiveness of the state in promoting social welfare and a decent standard or living. On other other hand, Marx was substantially more critical of the dangers posed upon the proletariat inherent within capitalism.[17] For Marx, the fix for the class struggle in a capitalist system is the abolition of class itself and subsequent establishment of socialism.

    Wikipedia

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  7. Marx created his own poverty. His views placed him in exile in London.

    His “proletariat” plight was not due to oppression of capitalism or a capitalist system.

    - TexasDude

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  8. I'm reminded of William F. Buckley, reclining with his eyebrows doing their dance, in a conversation with Mortimer Adler if memory (very sketchy) serves: "We cannot immanentize the eschaton." This is all I can say to the above.

    Notwithstanding my inability to move the conversation forward, I offer this. Leanne Payne was a woman immersed in C. S. Lewis, a scholar, and Christian minister of healing to thousands of wounded souls who were the early casualties of the embrace by the left of sexual chaos. Leanne began one of her healing conferences with a remarkable statement. The conference, summer of 1988, was attended by theologians and mental health practitioners who were touched by attempting to provide healing (order) in the midst of the chaos, along with a collection of 200 or so convicted pedophiles, transvestites, and a clueless lawyer who himself was caught up in the darkness of the chaos, desperately clinging to sanity.

    Leanne's statement was (paraphrased, from memory): "The time of the gentiles is coming to a close. We are witnessing the crackup of materialism. Totalitarianism in the East is finished. The disintegration of materialism in the West is afoot, but the return to chaos will take longer. Nevertheless, materialism in the West is disintegrating before our very eyes." Her 'vision' was informed by the Christian understanding of the eschaton, but I feel it is relevant to this discussion. This is all I can add to the discussion.

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  9. Mark: This mess was prompted by your statement concerning "The prominence that sexual disorder has for the modern Left . . ." I should have begun my post this that reference. I have long argued that the sexual disorder you describe is the only unifying theme of the democrat party. I was unable to find your insight as I was trying to put this comment into some coherent (?) form.

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