Monday, January 18, 2021

Politics And The Family

Yesterday I came across a review of a book that critiques--at least partially--the ideology that lies behind most of what's wrong in American life. You'll quickly recognize that the ideology as described is the same ideology that is described by political philosophers like Patrick Deneen. This is the ideology that grew out of the late medieval nominalism that maintained that there is no such thing as common natures, such as human nature--instead, only atomistic individuals exist. This has in the ensuing centuries become the default ideology of the modern world, and underlies the politics and policies of both Right and Left--whether most persons living under the sway of the this ideology recognize it or not. 

This fact explains the phenomenon that we call the "Uniparty" and the result that the difference between liberal and "conservative" administrations is largely a matter of how quickly we descend the slippery slope. The solution, of course, is to escape from that slippery slope by adopting a true philosophy and rejecting this anti-human ideology. The difficulty in this is that, in the course of centuries, it has become almost impossible for us in the West to think outside the box of this ideology. Even the institutions, such as the Church, that should be most strongly resisting it have largely succumbed--gradually but, at this point, virtually completely.

The book in question is by Scott Yenor, a professor of political science at Boise State University. Yennor's focus is on the harm this ideology has done and continues to do to the family as the key societal institution. His contention is that this harm is in no way coincidental. For our purposes, the difference between Right and Left in this regard is largely in the intent. "Conservatives" adopt the harmful policies mostly without the intent to harm the family as such--they do it because they cannot conceive of a different way of understanding human reality and so are putty in the hands of ideologues. Their goal is simply to continue "moderately", gradually. Not so with the Left.

A review of “The Recovery of Family Life: Exposing the Limits of Modern Ideologies,” by Scott Yenor (Baylor University Press, 368 pages, $49.95) 

The American Family on the Precipice

Scott Yenor recognizes the family is disintegrating and that this is the result of an intentional project of the radical Left. How does one reach a modus vivendi with such people?

by Kevin Portteus


Yenor describes our current cultural situation as a “rolling revolution”: a continuous, and continuously-evolving, attempt to remake American society. ... The ultimate goal is perfect “autonomy”—the ability of the atomistic individual to define his own existence, to “live his own truth” free from any external constraints, but particularly those of patriarchal, repressive American culture, Western civilization, and Christian morality.

Here we see expressed the truly revolutionary agenda behind Anthony Kennedy's famous "sweet mystery of life" opinion (cf. The Wages Of Libertarianism: Huge Government). According to the doctrinaire Libertarian Kennedy: 

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

This is a nearly perfect expression--allowing for its New Agey feel--of the nominalism that lies behind the Classical Liberal view of human nature that is the basis for both Right and Left. In such a view there can be no privileged, let alone secure, position for the family as a societal institution.

Yenor recognizes the family is disintegrating and that this is the result of a conscious and intentional project of the radical Left, ... He wants to understand that project, its consequences, and what we can do to salvage meaningful family life and its inestimable blessings of community, trust, mental and emotional health, and living for more than oneself and one’s own pleasures.

The strongest part of the book is Yenor’s description and critique of three theoretically distinct, yet practically inseparable doctrines of our modern politics and culture, which have combined to facilitate the rolling revolution. 

First, feminism, particularly the second-wave variety, seeks the creation of a “50-50” world where sex distinctions are meaningless. It treats any differences between men and women as the products of sexism and discrimination and seeks to annihilate them. 


Of course, many women will protest that this is not their view of 'feminism' at all--they just want 'fair' treatment. The problem is that, in a society in which 'rights' inhere in atomistic individuals rather than expressing a harmonious human nature which is inherently social, the demand for 'fairness' and 'rights' place you squarely on the slippery slope. Understood as the demands of atomistic individuals, 'rights' become the battlefield in which individuals seek power at the expense of others. There's no avoiding this outcome once you reject the philosophy of human nature in favor of a 'social contract.'

Second, contemporary liberalism seeks to strip all the values out of the law, to create a morally neutral system that allows people genuine freedom to choose. The ideal is the “pure relationship,” based on continuous consent, where people invent their own happiness and then pursue it, forming and dissolving relationships as they see fit. 

Finally, the doctrine of sexual liberation maintains that all the moral evils of our culture are the product of sexual repression. By legalizing and normalizing all practices, subject only to the restrictions of consent and the safety of the parties involved, the pathologies that result from our sexually repressive society will disappear. 


As Yenor will argue, these 'doctrines' of liberation are exactly that: doctrines that are held with an unholy, demonic fervor. The adherents of this doctrine of liberation will inevitably seek to impose it on others even as they maintain that they are acting in the name of moral neutrality--they will define the limits of the mandatory tolerance that they will impose.

Each one of these ideologies, Yenor proceeds to show, is fatally flawed. Radical feminism founders on the shoals of human nature. Try though we might try to eradicate them, the differences between men and women are at some level indestructible. ... 

The problem for contemporary liberalism is that all laws and legal systems embody moral judgments. It is impossible to create a “value-free” legal system, and the value judgments embedded in liberal legal reforms cannot help but influence the culture. Like feminism, sexual liberation is blocked by the durability of human nature. We have not yet been able to eradicate the natural sense that sex is something different, something special.


Unfortunately, Yenor fails to fully appreciate the radicalism behind this--there is no possibility of pluralism in a Liberal society which is a battleground in which atomistic individuals seek to extend the power and reach of their 'rights'. Society is then simply a field on which the battle of all against all is fought out to its zero sum conclusion--as we see ever more clearly. Thus, sadly, we read:

[Yennor] seeks a modus vivendi with the Left, under which all can agree to live in a pluralistic society.


There can and never will be such a modus vivendi. The history of the West is of the progressive descent of the slippery slope leading to ideological intolerance. The illusion of past tolerance is simply the result of a progress that began gradually. But the working out of the ideological consequences is everywhere inexorable. Those in the grips of ideology, since they have blinded themselves to the reality of human nature, must seek to expand the influence of their ideology.

These revolutionaries are completely uninterested in negotiation or compromise. They are certain they are “on the right side of history,” completely convinced of their own rectitude, and they recognize no morality except what serves their revolutionary goals. 

How does one reach a modus vivendi with such people? How can one compromise with people who believe themselves morally justified in destroying everyone and everything that does not share their ideology? ...

These conclusions, not surprisingly coming from a political philosopher like Yenor, closely follow the analysis in Eric Voegelin's The New Science of Politics, especially the chapter "Gnostic Revolution--The Puritan Case." That Voegelin selects as his example of Gnostic revolutionaries the Puritans rather than modern Leftists is his way of drawing attention to the shared basic ideology of Left and Right in the modern West.

After reading the review of Yenor, I also came across two additional articles that draw attention to specific points that Yenor has made. First, Michael Barone notes the openness of law professors to speech suppression. Barone finds this 'surprising,' but we should not be surprised by this at all. Speech suppression comes naturally to those who view their position in society as warriors on an ideological battlefield, with the goal of extending their rights/power:

From impeaching incitement to canceling conservatism

by Michael Barone

Law professors are surprisingly open to speech suppression, as Thomas Edsall reported in his New York Times blog. Yale’s Robert Post lamented that “the formation of public opinion is out of control”; California, Irvine’s Rick Hasen lamented “a market failure when it comes to reliable information voters need”; Columbia’s Tim Wu suggested “the weaponization of speech” makes the First Amendment jurisprudence “increasingly obsolete.”

Of course First Amendment jurisprudence is obsolete! It's no more than the relic of the outdated view that we can identify certain 'goods' that accord with a human nature that we can understand and express. Such a jurisprudence has no place in a liberal society, once we understand that society is a battleground of all against all--a struggle for rights. In that understanding, the First Amendment is no more than a power ploy intended to fool those seeking power for themselves.

With that understanding--that we are on a battlefield and that the battle is, as Yenor maintains, ongoing and continually evolving--expresses the current crisis quite well:

A Party of Faction and Fantasy

There are many lessons to be drawn from the 2020 election. The transformation of the United States of America from a republic into an oligarchy is a large and portentous lesson. 

The ostensible reason for turning the capital of the United States into an armed camp is to protect the mostly virtual inauguration of China’s Big Guy, Joe Biden, against the onslaught of all those “right-wing extremists,” “white supremacists,” etc. that the magical magus Donald Trump is mobilizing through secret “dog whistles” and other shamanistic practices. 


Among the many sobering realities that the 2020 election brought home is this: in our particular form of oligarchy, the people do have a voice, but it is a voice that is everywhere pressured, cajoled, shaped, and bullied. They have a choice, but only among a roster of approved candidates. 

The central fact to appreciate about Donald Trump is that he was elected without the permission, and over the incredulous objections, of the woke oligarchy that governs us. 


... Trump seems never to have discerned what a viper’s nest our politics has become for anyone who is not a paid-up member of The Club. 

Maybe Donald Trump knows now. I have no insight into that question. I am pretty confident, though, that the more than 74 million people who voted for him have a deep understanding of that reality. It’s another reason that The Club should be wary of celebrating their victory too expansively. 


  1. The Club should be wary of celebrating their victory too expansively.

    The stark, raving, fear of "normies" expressed by the two Divisions of armed, locked/loaded troops in Mordor-on-the-Potomac tells you that they understand their fragility.

  2. This is huge!
    > deep understanding of that reality.

    And note that is the official number that voted, it may have actually been more.

    My hope is this is a pyrrhic victory, and it has shown the Vichy in the gop.

  3. I have some doubt, that the whole of the default ideology of the modern world, should be seen as having "maintained that there is no such thing as common natures, such as human nature--instead, only atomistic individuals exist."
    I don't see why, say, Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments" should be interpreted this way, e.g. given such passages as
    "... there are evidently some principles in his *nature*, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him."
    My (vaguer) memories of Burke go in the same direction.

    I suspect, that the road to the dominance of the view, that only atomostic individuals exist, is of mostly more recent origin.

    1. I'm not saying that the development of that line of thought was totally smooth, i.e., without attempts to resist it or its consequences, but it is reality and it began by the end of the medieval period. Even with Smith and that sort, their idea is that humans are motivated by self interest and that somehow their self interest leads to a harmonious outcome. They speak in that way, referring vaguely to 'nature,' to attempt to avoid completely antinomian consequences. However, they lack the firm realist philosophical principles of an Aquinas to support their attempts at alternative theories. Later thinkers don't even resist those consequences.

    2. Maybe ironically, some much later thinkers (e.g. Freud, Jung) did resist those consequences, tho in "non-Aquinian" ways.
      I place emphasis, less on the old clashes over the
      Problem of Universals, than on the tumult of the period from JFK/ Ruby in Dallas, to the emergence of the "Energy Crisis", when the *Freudian* Marcuse was eclipsed on the Left, by the (hyper-nominalist?) deconstructionists.
      Note, starting in that recent period, the deconstructionists were all-so supportive of 2nd-wave feminism clobbering the West, w/ doses of pursuit of the creation of a “50-50” world.

  4. "Encourage stable social roles

    As discussed in Chapter 15, some forms of intolerance are socially beneficial. However, they also limit individual freedom. For that reason, intolerance should be avoided when possible and minimized when necessary. Customary social roles are a case of intolerance that limits individual autonomy but that can be socially beneficial.

    In Chapter 11, we saw how general words and concepts make thinking more efficient by letting us group things together. In a similar way, roles make thinking, acting, and social interactions more efficient. Whether they are a good thing or a bad thing depends on the tradeoff: How much individual freedom is surrendered in exchange for how much individual and social good?

    Consider an example. You go to a restaurant for dinner. The server arrives and asks what you want. When you request a menu, the server says there are no menus. You are completely free to order anything you wish. Your choices are not limited to those on a menu. Water? Would you like spring water from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Switzerland, Iceland or elsewhere? Tap water? From where? In a bottle? What kind of bottle: plastic, glass, ceramic, wood, leather? Should the bottle be large or small, tall or short? How tall or short? What temperature should the water be? When do you want it? Where should the server put it?

    You spend so much time trying to get a glass of water that you starve to death before you can ever order dinner. And even if you survive the 'trial by water,' you face the same process when you try to get your food.

    A restaurant menu limits your freedom. Your choices are limited to those on the menu. behavior. Every restaurant tries to have things on its menu that will satisfy most of its customers: if it didn’t, it would quickly go out of business. To get your dinner efficiently, you sacrifice a little freedom but are still mostly happy with the result.

    Just as a restaurant goes out of business if most people dislike its menu items, a society suffers if most people dislike their social roles. Remember that 'the perfect is the enemy of the good.' No set of social roles will satisfy everyone, and few roles will satisfy anyone completely.

    Postmodernists deny the existence of human nature because it seems to limit the autonomy of groups they consider oppressed. Even so, humans show regular patterns of biology and behavior that can be considered their 'nature.' Roles that match human nature make most people happy, while those that conflict with it make them unhappy.

    Roles affect society as well as individuals. For example, Western societies now face a 'birth dearth' as they fail to produce enough children to sustain their populations. Feminism broke down arbitrary limits on women’s freedom, and that was a good thing — but it had a cost. Post-feminist women marry later, if at all, and have fewer children than women in earlier eras and in traditional societies. As a result, Western populations are shrinking. In that case, we looked at the tradeoff between individual freedom and social good, and we decided in favor of freedom. Our population deficit is being remedied by immigrants who believe neither in freedom nor feminism. The results are unpredictable."

    -- Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace

    1. "You spend so much time trying to get a glass of water, that you starve to death before you can ever order dinner."
      OK, "absolute" freedom in a restaurant is a non-starter, such that even most deconstructionists would admit this.
      But "absolute" freedom to not enter that, or any, restaurant, or any other business that day, or any day, is more of what's at issue.
      When the pop. deficit is being remedied by immigrants who believe neither in freedom nor feminism, the fear that those folks believe neither in freedom nor feminism stems from empirical observations (which I respect), but whose (sound) empirical status is subject to rather more fluctuation, than are judgements about whether
      restaurants should have *relatively* small menus.
      So, while my views on the pop. deficit may be X today, they could fluctuate, with evidence of possible changes in the mentality of coming cohorts of immigrants.

    2. @ N.S. Palmer January 18, 2021 at 3:50 PM

      I have felt for quite some time that the rules established by our betters for mixed-sex workplaces are not only doomed to failure, but will doom our workplaces to failure.

      The rule is: No (hint of) sexual relations among co-workers. Yet, as you say, this denies the existence of human nature. There is going to be sexual attraction in the workplace, and sexual attraction being what it is, some mistakes will be made and hard feelings will result.

      The current penalty for this manifestation of human nature is: cancellation. Especially if you are the male. You are cancelled.

      One of my sons is employed by a small firm which has figured out how they can deal with this. They no longer hire women.

      Let's see how the Omnipotent Party reacts to that.

    3. The idea of having non-family mixed sex workplaces is extremely recent in human history. In those terms you could say it's still an ongoing experiment--as is co-education.

      "Feminism broke down arbitrary limits on women’s freedom, and that was a good thing"

      That's one way to put it. The other way to put it is that observation of sexual differences among basically all species shows that roles of the sexes differ. To suppose that sex specific roles within the human species are arbitrary, therefore, requires justification.

      Obviously this is a topic that can't be hashed out in a blog comment, but what we're seeing in the war of the sexes these days--the pervasive unhappiness--is just one more example of what happens when ideology triumphs over nature, when humans are regarded as atomistic individuals rather than as men and women, when all societal outcomes are supposed to be 'fair' as measured by the smallest denominator--the individual.

  5. I have come accross the dilemma of nominalism vs. realism in the context of medieval history, while I was reading articles in several weeks ago.

    According to one article:
    "A pure nominalist would say that the state is just a name and exists only because the individuals who make it up are real. It could therefore be argued that the state must then serve its subjects, since after all it is only the sum of their individualities.

    A pure realist would say that the state is the only real thing, that its individual subjects exist only insofar as they partake of its general character, and that the state, by virtue of its existence, properly dominates the individual. In religion, an extreme nominalist, arguing that what we can perceive through our senses is alone real, might even have trouble believing in the existence of God. An extreme realist would tend to ignore, or even to deny, the existence of the physical world and its problems."

    As I perceive, issues arise when people support either of the extremes. Western society, after much struggle and fight during and after the medieval ages, had reached a compromise. That compromise is now broken, deliberately, to destabilize and exploit the accumulated wealth of the western civilization, since that's the only part of the World, with significant wealth remaining.

    Because there is no new continent to explore and exploit, and because the speed of light is a huge barrier preventing us from spreading to other stars at least in the visible future, the only remaining option for the swollen parasitic nobility is to reduce the population, use automation essentially keeping and enjoying the resources of the earth only for and by themselvees.

  6. More insight into Liberalism's failure here:

    We must recall that Cult is the progenitor of Culture, which in turn is the progenitor of Politics. Someone mentioned that Burke didn't show 'liberal' problems--which is because Burke operated from a Catholic world-view.

    Liberalism, on the other hand, pays lip service to Nature's laws & Nature's God, but the lip service deteriorates rapidly as Nature's God fades from the society.

    It is no co-incidence that Liberalism's roots lie in the Reformation.

    1. I would disagree to this extent.

      Liberalism's roots are not in the Reformation per se. They are in the nominalism and volunatarism of the late medieval period, which was prevalent in most Catholic universities of the time, just as modernism is prevalent in most current Catholic universities. The Reformation arose from that current of 'Catholic' thought going back to Blessed Duns Scotus and Ockham, which in turn was the logical working out of the Augustinian tradition--cf. Etienne Gilson, The Unity Of Philosophical Experience. The Catholic past is far more complicated than you make out.