52 Albums, Week 43: Heart Food (Judee Sill)
52 Albums, Week 44: (think of these as a triptych) (Neil Young)

Sunday Night Journal, October 29, 2017

Tonight I'm bringing in a guest speaker: Ryszard Legutko, author of The Demon In Democracy, which I've just read and which I think is a very important book. Off and on for a few years now I've published the occasional post categorized as "What Is Actually Happening." The tag refers to a remark by the late Kenneth Minogue (Australian political scholar) which was a sort of variant of Orwell's observation that "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." Minogue said 

The basic question in life is "What is actually going on?" and it often requires a great deal of time to pass before one can find the answers.

I changed "going on" to "happening" just because I think it sounds better. Minogue seems to have been referring to events, to the course of history, not what I would call the basic question in life, which would be something along the lines of "What's it all about?" But it's a pretty important one, especially in a time of great change. You could consider it as part of the task recommended in Matthew 16:3: to read the signs of the times.

Legutko is a Pole, about my age, who grew up under communism, then experienced the end of communism and its replacement by...what? Well, that's what the book is about. Over the years he had noticed certain disquieting similarities between the communist and liberal-democratic ideologies. And after the fall of communism he noticed how easily and successfully its former functionaries assumed a role in running the government. In an overly-condensed and simplified nutshell, he asserts that the liberal-democratic system has been transformed from a theoretically neutral mechanism for implementing government by the people into a utopian ideology. 

I'll let the quotations which follow explicate that observation. 

In this view, today also consciously or unconsciously professed by millions, the political system should permeate every section of public and private life, analogously to the view of the erstwhile accoucheurs of the communist system. Not only should the state and the economy be liberal, democratic, or liberal-democratic, but the entire society as well, including ethics and mores, family, churches, schools, universities, community organizations, culture, and even human sentiments and aspirations. The people, structures, thoughts that exist outside the liberal-democratic pattern are deemed outdated, backward-looking, useless, but at the same time extremely dangerous as preserving the remnants of old authoritarianisms. Some may still be tolerated for some time, but as anyone with a minimum of intelligence is believed to know, sooner or later they will end up in the dustbin of history. Their continued existence will most likely threaten the liberal-democratic progress and therefore they should be treated with the harshness they deserve....

I should note right away that the "harshness" he describes is not in the form of violence, prisons, and concentration camps, but rather in exclusion, silencing, and social, economic, and legal pressures which limit or deny any public role or presence to the outdated, useless, and dangerous. The liberal-democratic ideologue sees himself as "a vigorous youngster transforming the world." He  

...feels like a part of a powerful global machine of transformation. He not only understands the process of change better than others and knows how to organize the world, but also...can easily diagnose which phenomena, communities, and institutions will disappear and, when resisting, will have to be eliminated for the sake of the future. Therefore he reacts with indignant pity toward anyone who wants to stop the unstoppable. He indulges in a favorite occupation of the youngster: to criticize what is in the name of what will be, but what a large part of humanity, less perceptive and less intelligent than himself, fails to see.

Legutko pauses here to make it clear that he is not denying the achievements of liberal democracy, or the brutality of communism, then continues:

This youngster, however, fails to notice that at some point this system, or rather the arrangement of systems covering many variants, became haughty, dogmatic, and dedicated not so much to the resolution of political conflicts as to transforming society and human nature. It lost its prior restraint and caution, created powerful tools to influence every aspect of life, and set in motion institutions and laws, frequently yielding to the temptation to conduct ideological warfare against disobedient citizens and groups. Falling into a trap of increasing self-glorification, the system began to define itself more and more against its supposed opposition, i.e., all sorts of nonliberal and nondemocratic enemies whose elimination was considered a necessary condition to achieve the next level of ideological purity. The multiparty system was gradually losing its pluralistic character, parliamentarianism was becoming a vehicle of tyranny in the hands of the ideologically constituted majority, and the rule of law was changing into judicial arbitrariness.

The "youngster" is transforming the system into something it was not and was never intended to be. He 

...infuses the old political institutions with new energy and injects them with new ideological content while remaining notoriously unaware that under new circumstances, these new institutions are no longer what they once were and that they serve a new purpose.

When I read those passages, the "youngster" immediately acquired a face: that of Barack Obama. His many idolizers will never see it, but to those who did not fall under his spell (I once likened him to Saruman), Obama exuded exactly the sort of arrogance Legutko describes. He was not malicious, or not very; he didn't want to exterminate or imprison those who resisted his wisdom. He was only serenely certain that he was right, and that anyone who disagreed with him either was malicious or just didn't understand. He would have preferred that they understand and obey. But if they didn't, he would roll right over them if he possibly could. And his followers, already of like mind, and infatuated with his rhetoric and his racial cachet, agreed: no one could decently oppose Obama, or the measures he proposed for "fundamentally transforming" the United States. Those who did so were indecent, not just mistaken: either out-and-out racial bigots, or bigots-at-large, generally reprehensible people, and of course quite stupid. At very best, they were fools who didn't know what was good for them ("cling[ing] to guns or religion," as Obama so famously put it, in words that clearly showed his disdain for at least half the people he wanted to govern).

The contraception mandate included in the mountain of regulations implementing Obamacare was a perfect case study in the process described by Legutko. He (not him directly, but his administration) needn't have done it; he could have left things as they were for the small number of employers who were affected by it, and made other arrangements for the very small number of employees who might have been inconvenienced. But the administration chose to force the issue. The Catholic Church and other Christian communions are, in the eyes of committed progressives, precisely the "institutions [which] will disappear." The "arc of history" will inevitably see to that; in the meantime, a shove may be needed here and there. The mandate seemed to be a situation where the administration wished to exact obedience, to establish the principle that such decisions were for it and it alone to make. As James Capretta says, it was "an unnecessary fight that backfired," and it probably had some influence in giving us President Trump.

Legutko, I should note, is to a great extent talking about the European Union, and he notes somewhere that the United States is a little different. What he describes as the liberal-democratic ideology is generally called just "liberalism" here, or "progressivism," or "the left." But it's very similar. The biggest difference in our situation seems to be that there is more, and more intense, opposition to the program here, as the contraception fight indicates--not necessarily coherent or wise opposition, of course and unfortunately.

The passages I've quoted are from the opening pages of the book. Now I'll jump ahead to the end, in which Legutko considers the situation of Christianity:

If the old communists lived long enough to see the world of today, they would be devastated by the contrast between how little they themselves had managed to achieve in their antireligious war and how successful the liberal democrats have been. All the objectives the communists set for themselves, and which they pursued with savage brutality, were achieved by the liberal democrats who, almost without any effort and simply by allowing people to drift along with the flow of modernity, succeeded in converting churches into museums, restaurants, and public buildings, secularizing entire societies, making secularism the militant ideology, pushing religion to the sidelines, pressing the clergy into docility, and inspiring powerful mass culture with a strong anti-religious bias in which a priest must be either a liberal challenging the Church or a disgusting villain. 

The triumph of anti-Christianity seems to favor [a] conciliatory approach.... The only option left for Christians to maintain some respectability in a new world was to join the great progressive camp so that occasionally they would have an opportunity to smuggle in something that could pass for a religious message.

But this conciliatory attitude on the part of Christians is certainly wrong if it is motivated by the conviction that the current hostility to religion is a result of misunderstanding, social contingencies, unfortunate errors committed by the Christians, or some minor ailments of modern society. The truth is that all these phenomena, as well as other anti-Christian developments, are the genuine consequences of the spirit of modernity on which the liberal democracy was founded. Modernity and anti-Christianity cannot be separated because they stem from the same root and since the beginning have been intertwined. There is nothing and has never been anything in this branch of the European tradition that would make it favorably disposed to Christianity.....

Therefore, whoever advocates the conciliatory strategy today fails or refuses to see the conditions in which Christians have been living. It is utterly mistaken to take the position that many do: namely that the Church should take over some liberal-democratic ingredients, open up to modern ideas and preferences, and then, after having modernized herself, manage to overcome hostility and reach people with Christian teachings. One can see why this plan has gained considerable popularity, but whatever its merits, it cannot succeed. 

There follows a brief discussion of the conciliatory path followed by Vatican II and since. But

All these changes, however, did not blunt the anti-Christian prejudices that the liberal democratic spirit had been feeding on. nor did they entice more people to enter the Church to strengthen the already-decimated army of the faithful. The good things that were expected to happen did not happen. They did not--let me say it again--because they could not. An aversion to Christianity runs so deep in the culture of modernity that no blandishment or fawning on the part of the Church can change it. 

I'll leave you with this amusing picture of those who attempt the conciliatory path, the "open Catholics":

Cardinal Wyszynski, being under an enormous pressure, was yielding to communists, but finally said Non possumus ["We cannot," according to Google Translate]. Looking at the open Catholics, it is hard to imagine that they would ever be able to utter such words, let alone think about them, no matter how far liberal democracy pushes its anti-Christian campaign. One should rather think of the open Catholics as a group of cheerleaders with funny pom-poms, similar to those that one can see at games in American, encouraging their favorites to fight for progress.

Actually I don't think it's quite that bad; I think a lot of bishops would in fact say "Non possumus," at least right now.

I don't intend this post as any sort of call to arms, except in the spiritual realm. These trends are not going to be stopped or reversed by political work. Nor, it shouldn't really need to be said, will denouncing and defaming the opposition, who are, in general and in my experience, very decent people sincerely "working for a better world" (a phrase which provokes so much cynicism in me that I have to remind myself that it is in fact a desirable thing, and that it's only disagreement about the definition of "better" that makes me cynical.) And I certainly don't mean to encourage the paranoia and excessive alarm which is all too present in Christian circles these days. I just think it's important to understand the situation, to see things as they really are. It's part of being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 

I won't go quite as far as to say that everyone should read this book. I'll narrow it down a little: if you have enough interest in the general topic to read an entire book about it, you really should read this one. It's not that long, by the way, a little under 200 pages. And it's full of sharply illuminating observations. I must have marked fifty passages in it.

Rod Dreher has discussed Legutko often, and solicited some email comments from him soon after Trump's election. His remarks are very perceptive, I think. You can read them here, starting at the paragraph which opens "After the U.S. election."

The-Demon-in-Democracy-Totalitarian-Temptations-in-Free-Societies-307x460

There's one thing I would add to Legutko's appraisal: the religious nature of what he calls the liberal-democratic ideology; he suggests this only in passing, but I think it's very important. As people who read this blog regularly have heard me say many times, contemporary progressivism is for practical purposes a religion. What we are and have been witnessing is a struggle between two religions, the replacement of one predominant way of looking at the world and at man by another. Mankind will always form a culture, and a culture necessarily has a unifying vision, and by definition it can only have one. (The supposedly "multicultural" model requires a single master culture which encompasses and governs all the sub-cultures, and which happens to be the liberal-democratic culture.) If things continue to move in their current direction, what is actually happening now will eventually be recognized as a transition like that in which Christianity became the religion of the Middle East and of Europe. This is hardly a new observation, having been made by many thinkers for well over a hundred years now. 

Comments

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At the risk of saying anything at all, how does the Obamas, Clintons and Bidens being practicing Christians factor into your appraisal of them. Whereas with the current occupant of the White House, I think he claims to be a Presbyterian but probably does not "practice".

I think it's clear where the deepest convictions and loyalties of Obama et.al. lie. But there are legions of Christians who are fully on board with the trends Legutko describes. Insofar as Trump is any kind of Christian, you could probably include him, too. He just has a different political angle.

Okay, at least I did not risk much with your response. Where is Art Deco to correctly slap me down and make me suffer a little for my ignorance?

Disagreement is allowed. :-)

That term "practicing Christian" is a sort of loose one, isn't it? I think many who call themselves that would be what Freeman Dyson characterized himself as -- "a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian".

I would certainly eschew my practice if I did not believe. Speaking of which, the Sunday before last (8 days ago) I was in Kanab, Utah and went to the little Catholic Church there for Sunday Mass and it was a very nice experience. It is so fun to attend Mass when you travel and pray with a different group of people geographically.

So would I (eschew etc.) I never have understood that. But then I've never (as an adult) been in a situation where going to church was any sort of occupational or social advantage.

Yes, "practicing Christian" is certainly a very loose term. There have always been--well, at least since the Roman persecutions ended--Christians who practiced but didn't believe. But there are probably fewer than there used to be, as Christianity fades as a cultural force.

That Dyson piece is frustrating. He doesn't seem to make any distinction between theology and pure speculation. Christian theology is at least in principle based on a specific revelation.

There is a kerfuffle going on at Claremont between Robert Reilly and Patrick Deneen over the question someone has stated as "Did the Founders build better or worse than they knew?" I haven't read any of the exchanges closely so I don't know if Legutko has been mentioned, but the thesis of his book figures into the question, I'd say.

That sounds interesting. My first thought is that both are true. The "worse" may be more or less built in to their philosophical foundations, their assumption of a stable context in which, for instance, religious differences were intramural. But I don't know much about them, really. In any case it seems that the system can't survive as a battleground for fundamentally different core principles.

Yes, that's the way I see it too, especially your last sentence.

I'm reading about the Spanish civil war right now. Talk about different core values!

The book makes a point that Franco was never a fascist and that he was not totalitarian. The falangists, who were part of the Nationalist coalition, were fascist.

I think many of the core values are almost as different among us now, but they don't extend to one group advocating a totally different form of government. It's a struggle for control of the existing form.

Back in the '80s there were people, I think in the Reagan administration, who made the case for a distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian. It was scoffed at by the left but I think it makes sense.

I'm curious what you think of the latest in vogue news item, "allegations of sexual harassment" many from decades ago.

I would have to say that I feel distinctly "right-wing" in my gut reaction to all of this craziness.

Judge, jury and executioner all seem to be in the power of a person saying, "So-and-so did this to me and I didn't feel like I could say anything until now since it is topical at this moment!"

Are all of these individuals going to be jobless and shunned like pedophiles from now until they expire? I suppose so far most are wildly wealthy, but this could trickle down to others that actually need employment.

Of course I do not think it is right to harass anyone, if I need to state that.

There's certainly a massive potential for abuse. I figure with people like Weinstein the accusations are so numerous that it's pretty safe to assume they're true. Also he hasn't really denied it, only saying he didn't rape anybody. But there has been a lot of concern for a while now about the situation on college campuses, where it's just one person accusing another, and the environment is pretty much set up to guarantee problems, with all the drinking and total lack of supervision. Easy for women to be abused, but also easy for men to get railroaded through a feminist-dominated bureaucracy. There have been some lawsuits involving both scenarios.

Back in the '80s there were people, I think in the Reagan administration, who made the case for a distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian. It was scoffed at by the left but I think it makes sense.

Long time listener, first time caller...

If I remember correctly from my Reagan era College Republican days, that was one of the premises of Jeanne Kirkpatrick's book "Dictatorships and Double Standards"

Oh yeah, I think you're right. I was pretty sure a prominent woman had made that case, but couldn't come up with the name. Thanks.

I'd always assumed that the distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian was an accepted piece of terminology (with the former a much broader category, and the latter a very specific sub-type).

It seems plain enough, and useful enough. But what I remember from the debate at the time was sneers.

There's a Wikipedia entry on the Kirkpatrick Doctrine, and what I take away from it is that the criticism was due not to her assessment of the differences between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, but that it led to the Reagan administration's giving "varying degrees of support to several militaristic anti-Communist dictatorships, including those in Guatemala (to 1985), the Philippines (to 1986), and Argentina (to 1983), and armed the mujahideen in the Soviet war in Afghanistan, UNITA during the Angolan Civil War, and the Contras during the Nicaraguan Revolution as a means of toppling governments, or crushing revolutionary movements, in those countries that did not support the aims of the USA."

Yes, that was the context. But the policy and the idea were yoked. It wasn't an abstract argument. The administration held that it was justifiable to support authoritarian anti-communists because totalitarianism was worse than authoritarianism. A debatable position but I think a defensible one. Understandably not considered so by those who were suffering under the authoritarians.

I was looking for the post where you wrote something about all the sexual harassment news, and I finally found that it was in the comments.

I have been wanting to mention for a week or two that I heard an interview on On the Media during which two women were asking the question, "How do these revelations of sexual misconduct affect the way we view the art of the offenders." As an example, they cited Louis C. K.s nastiness and talked about how much they had admired his work before, and wondered if they would ever be able to look at this body of work objectively now and like it as much as they previously had. (I know nothing about his work except what they mentioned and I have no desire to know more.)

Then they said that it makes a big difference when the "creep" lived more than a hundred years ago. For example, John Donne, because he was losing his vision, taught his daughters how to write in Greek so he could dictate to them, but didn't teach them what the words meant. And then, Tolstoi's wife transcribed his messy notes into a readable form, sometimes staying up late at night while he slept.

I'm not sure how they seriously think Donne and Tolstoi approach the level of creepdom acheived by Louis C. K., Weinstein, and Franken.

There is something seriously weird about the way they think.

I'm also continually amused by the idea that any of these people can pretend to be shocked that this stuff was going on.

AMDG

I need to go to sleep, but just one remark: these people are about to aggravate me into casting a vote for Roy Moore. Every time they call him a "pedophile" it pushes me a step closer. And I can't stand the guy.

So one last stop before going to bed was that I looked in on Facebook, and I see a New York Times story. Headline:

My Vagina Is Terrific. Your opinion of it is not.

Sub-head:

I dared to discuss my anatomy. Men couldn't handle it.

But...but...would it not be wrong or at least weird if some man started discussing his penis with you? "something seriously weird about the way they think"--indeed.

Yes. During the women's march when all those women were walking around in those horrid pink hats, I wondered about how much outrage there would be if men wore the male equivalent.

AMDG

And what the heck was John Donne writing in Greek? Is this even true?

AMDG

I was going to say--I once heard a very similar story about Milton rather than Donne: that he made his daughters learn to pronounce Latin, but not to understand it, so they could read Latin works to him after he went blind. That sounds more likely. I don't recall ever reading that Donne went blind.

"if men wore the male equivalent"--feminists would be making a really big mistake if they started a competition with men to see who could be more crude.

No mention of blindness in Donne's Wikipedia bio:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Donne#Career_and_later_life

Darn. It was Milton. I make that mistake all the time! They are the same person to me.

Latin makes sense. Greek did not.

AMDG

It's like March and May. To me they are the same month.

AMDG

That's funny, neither of those pairs gets mixed up in my mind. Plenty of other things do, though.

Patrick Deneen's new book, Why Liberalism Failed, is a great complement to the Legutko. It was supposed to have come out in January but Yale moved it up (and also dropped the price by $10.00). I had it pre-ordered and was surprised to get a notice early last week that it was on its way. I'm about half way through it and it's outstanding.

I think I saw an excerpt from it somewhere and was too busy to read it at the time. Or maybe it was just a discussion...anyway it was lost in the information avalanche. I'm sure this is good, judging by things of his I've seen here and there over the years.

Just read a most illuminating essay on this whole matter of liberalism and tolerance. It's called "Genocide and Kant's Enlightenment" and it appears in the book Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide by Jewish philosopher Berel Lang. Very highly recommended.

Thanks.

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