Holiday Cheer

With a hat-tip to Bill Vallicella, we have for you an essay in which Rod Dreher, citing Theodore Dalrymple, examines the expanding sinkhole at the foundation of Western civilization: the family.

The causes are many — among them are secularism (which, I believe, belongs right at the top of the list), multiculturalist decohesion, the substitution of the universal State for the responsibilities of fatherhood, the withering away of civic virtue, and a sustained assault on tradition and cultural heritage — but solutions are few, if they exist at all. Dreher calls for a rebirth of religious belief, which would certainly be a tonic, but it’s hard to imagine that’s going to happen.

As thinkers from Spengler to Stoddard have argued, the process by which high civilizations die is a decline in the birthrates of their elites, and an excess of fecundity in their sullen and resentful underclass. (History suggests that this problem, once begun, is inexorable, and fatal.)

Read Dreher’s essay here.

9 Comments

  1. Jason says

    It is likely though Malcolm that we will eventually see a return to the cult of the family, to bourgeois virtues. I wouldn’t bet the house on it, and it’s probably a decade or two down the road, but again a renaissance will occur I’d suspect. To allude to a remark I made in an earlier post, familial security will be seen as simply practical, as a means for human flourishing and love in an increasingly chaotic age. Husbands and wives will stick together, for instance, not so much because it’s right or religiously observant, but just because it makes sense to do so.

    Posted December 27, 2017 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  2. Tom Hart says

    People don’t tend to be quite so utilitarian about their social lives, especially if they’ve never known anything different. A return to marriage is, therefore, unlikely to occur purely as an act of self interest.

    Besides, our economic system, welfare state, and media actively discourage family formation along the bourgeois lines you suggest. The rational actor in the current environment is probably the person who does not start a family.

    A return to the bourgeois family would probably require a religious awakening. Establishing a family, whatever other considerations go into the act, is an act of faith. It always has been. There are too many incalculable elements in the venture to undertake it on rational grounds alone.

    Family formation requires a degree of confidence and self-belief. This, as Kenneth Clark observed, is also a requirement for civilisation.

    If there is to be a new religious awakening, it is unlikely to recapitulate historical forms that have already run their course. The Protestant ethos that supported the bourgeois family degraded, as Nietzsche observed, into contemporary liberalism and socialism.

    In this sense, the Christian tradition is alive in a secular form in our contemporary welfare states, technocratic liberalism, and remenants of socialism.

    Confidence is currently in short supply all round, anyway.

    Posted December 28, 2017 at 5:40 am | Permalink
  3. Whitewall says

    Tom Hart,
    “A return to the bourgeois family would probably require a religious awakening”. I wonder if the ever present Catholic Church might play a role in the salvation of Western Civ, especially in Europe?

    Posted December 28, 2017 at 7:05 am | Permalink
  4. Tom Hart says

    “Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe,” said Belloc. There is a sense that Western civilisation is the Church, or, at least, the Church plus the Hellenes.

    Protestantism is not really particularly civilised. Its iconoclasam, the wars of religion it provoked, and its limited art hint at this. It produced industry, I suppose, though industry is not alone a mark of civilisation.

    And when people speak of the bourgeois family it is, I suspect, a version of the idealised Victorian family unit in the Anglophone countries that they have in mind.

    But this was formed by Protestantism and was, perhaps, less civilised than older forms of Christian family organisation. I don’t know enough to comment, but I suspect that the family unit idealised by most conservatives was already a degeneration.

    The criticisms by Marx with regard to the Victorian bourgeois family — that it was an organised commercial hypocrisy — hold good in this regard.

    A Spenglerian perspective would say there is no hope of regeneration. Western civilisation peaked five centuries or so ago. We are in a long period of cooling towards stasis.

    The increasing Protestantisation of the Church in the 20th Century provides evidence for this. The initial split has caught up with the main body of the Church. The decline will be slower, since the Church is the root of the civilisation, but it is underway.

    The final disintegration to the lowest level of activity would take centuries in the Spenglerian view.

    A counterpart view, from CG Jung, is that civilisations can and do revive. I’ve only found this as a quotation. I haven’t read how Jung thought this could take place, or his reasons for believing that this is so.

    However, if Jung is right, it is the Church that is the most probable source for revival. It is the root.

    Resurrection is, after all, its foundation stone.

    Posted December 28, 2017 at 8:12 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Jason,

    I would like to think you are right, but investment of any sort — and family formation is a huge investment — requires low time-preference of the sort that is increasingly rare. (Indeed, low time-preference is only rational if there is enough confidence in social stability to be able to make a gamble on future returns.)

    One of the important features of religion is that it fosters a sense of extension in time, and that’s another reason why a religious revival would be helpful here (and perhaps necessary).

    Posted December 28, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Tom,

    Excellent comments. I don’t think I’ve seen you here before. Thanks for joining in.

    The family is a perfect example — the archetype, really — of a natural hierarchy. Protestantism is by definition antihierarchical, and the mutation of Protestantism into the secular, universal and hegemonic cryptoreligion of the modern West is responsible for much of the decline we observe. If Western civilization is going to revive, it will need to throw this off. And it had better get a move on.

    Posted December 28, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  7. Tom Hart says

    Thanks, Malcolm. This is an interesting site. I’ve been reading it over the last month or so.

    Protestantism is anti-hierarchical, but it also contains — as with everything in life — a hierarchical kernel. It wouldn’t be able to function otherwise.

    Marxism-Leninism and anarchism have a similar feature. M-L was developed by Lenin and Stalin as a means for an elite group to seize power in order to establish an ultra egalitarian state. The state outlined by Lenin in his State and Revolution is an extremely democratic one. The methods to achieve this were to be elitist and hierarchical.

    Anarchism seeks to abolish the rules all at once. This tends, ironically, to create the most primitive hierarchies. The university anarchist clubs I attended were usually completely dominated by one charismatic alpha male type. Without the constitutions and by-laws that governed the other political clubs, life returned to something slightly above the law of the jungle.

    Protestantism’s hierarchical nature is most apparent in Calvinism. The elect, predestined to salvation, constitue an elite.

    They may not have the fripperies of Popery, but they have a pretty staunch hierarchy nonetheless. This was satirised in the novel Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which features a Scottish member of the elect so giddy with his elite status that he goes out on a sin spree. With God on side no matter what he does, why not indulge?

    This elitist aspect to Protestantism, combined with the idea of Providence, informed the formation of the United States, which gives the US its contradictory character. It is among the most egalitarian states ever created, with opportunity much more open than in European socieities. Yet, at the same time, it retains an elitist edge.

    Americans will kick your ass, and they believe Providence has ordained it. “The country was young/With God on its side,” noted Dylan.

    The hierarchical aspect of Prostestantism was also highlighted in the post-war period by its connection with Nazism. Luther, a fierce anti-Semite and rabble rouser, was seen as foreshadowing the figure of Hitler (although his background was Catholic). The two men were seen as being driven by a shared vision of Providence, with the German people as ‘blessed among the nations’ to purify the world — much to the world’s disadvantage.

    Nazism was, after all, a paradoxically democratic elitist ideology. It promised the egalitarianism of blood found in a Volkisch community combined with the hierarchy of a militarised state.

    This was where it maintained a Protestant influence; it is also why those who believe in pure and simple Roman Catholic hierarchy see within Protestantism a totalitarian and deeply wicked potential, akin to the Satanic “Do what thou will” outlook described in Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

    The Nazis did what they would will. The world trembled and despaired.

    This is one reason why hardline aristocrats, Roman Catholics, and traditionalists will always treat Protestantism with suspicion. They see its totalitarian potential to create a new hierarchy unrestrained by any scruples. This is why the true spirit of resistance to the Nazis always came from the aristocrats, not the communists and their ilk.

    What does that all mean for the West? The US can probably only revive its vitality in the world by retaining and reviving its Protestant roots. Protestantism made the US. Without this spiritual core the nation would die.

    This is why it will always be the ‘Great Satan’ for hardline traditionalists; it was always, in a sense, the revolutionary twin to the USSR in the 20th century. It certainly helped the USSR enough in that country’s early days.

    But a nation cannot betray its roots without dying. US Protestantism cannot be excised.

    And the US is still, whatever traditionalists or aristocrats think, a branch of the West.

    The most vital force in the US at the moment, though he may tun out to be a mountebank, is Elon Musk. Musk is, of course, from a parallel settler colonial society (South Africa) that was founded principally by Protestants driven by the same vision of Providence that founded the US. Musk comes from this stock. He has merely moved to a sister society.

    His Space X project is a classically Faustian (Western) undertaking in Spenglerian terms. Faustian or Western man seeks extension, exploration, and the infinite. Distant sailing expeditions, climbing mountains, and space exploration are the hallmarks of Faustian (Western) civilisation. In mathematics, we are fascinated by the infinite. Musk, by taking up the fallen mantel of space exploration, shows that the Faustian spirit and drive of this civilization is not yet fully dormant.

    His transfer from a former Protestant settler colonial society to another to achieve his goal indicates that, perhaps, the answer to the revitalisation of Western civilisation lies not in the rejection of the Protestant (strictly Calvinist or Puritan) spirit but in reaching back to recover the benign Providential and elitist element within this apparently anti-hierarchical religion.

    This religion, even secularised, contains a strong, vital, and civilisational potential — even if, as Moldbug and others note, it also has a strong entropic potential that would, unchecked, destroy civilisation. This is why I initially described Protestantism as having limited civilisational potential.

    It also contains the wickedest elitism of all found in Luther, Hitler, and — perhaps — Trump (Scotch Protestant stock, with some evidence of justified sinning).

    Posted December 28, 2017 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Tom, that is quite possibly the longest comment anyone has ever left here. (I’m not going to review all 24,731 comments to be sure, but it’s definitely a whopper.) I do encourage pithiness, if possible.

    The inconsistency in the idea of the Justified Sinner is an obvious one, and it is of a piece with the ostentatiousness of Puritan “virtue signaling” that continues so conspicuously to this day: those who have truly received God’s grace would behave in a Godly way. To run around sinning like the Devil is the clearest possible evidence that one is mistaken about one’s predestined salvation.

    Protestantism is inherently and explicitly antihierarchical — at least as regards the hierarchy that connects Heaven to Earth — but people are human nevertheless, and so they gravitate toward power. It’s hard to make anything work at all here below without hierarchy, so hierarchies will always exist. They existed under Communism, and as you say, they exist among anarchists. (And we mustn’t forget the Iron Law of Oligarchy.)

    The key difference with traditional American Protestantism and the new secular cryptoreligion that now dominates society is that the mutated form flattens the hierarchy even further, by removing the metaphysically transcendent and making God simply another aspect of the natural world (or, in simplest terms, Nature itself). This has been incalculably destructive, as it has also flattened past and future into a solipsistic presentism. Democracy also flattens time, and so the two together are a natural, and naturally destructive, combination.

    I agree that a religious revival in America would be predominantly Protestant in nature. It must begin by resurrecting a transcendent God.

    Posted December 28, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  9. Tom Hart says

    Yes, my egomania probably explains the long comment. Future comments will be tempered, my ego has been sated somewhat by setting a comment length record.

    I well remember my politics teacher at school talking about the “Iron Law of Oligrachy” and Michels at length.

    It took me sixteen years to realise my teacher had a point. Youthful idealism dies hard.

    That is a very interesting insight regarding the absence of the transcendent and the eternal present. It makes me think that this secular cryptoreligion is also linked to Spinoza’s thought.

    There seems to be a forever war with an imagined reactionary past, but the ‘reactionary period’ is now shifting from the supposedly uptight 1950s to more recent, formerly ‘progressive’, decades. Germaine Greer, for example, is now being presented as ‘reactionary’ by the current feminist vanguard.

    I increasingly think that the ‘reactionary’ times are a confection by the current order. They were in the saddle in the 1950s as much as now. A look at the politics of, say, the Bloomsbury Group in the 1930s shows people of influence and power already held views that would be considered mainstream progressivism or leftism today.

    Posted December 29, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

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