Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sydney Traditionalist Forum event

Sydney readers might be interested in an upcoming event hosted by the Sydney Traditionalist Forum. It's a documentary screening held at Sydney University. You need to register for the event using the contact details below:

Social class

Mark Moncrieff has an interesting post up at his site discussing attitudes to social classes - a theme that I haven't covered much. I think he is correct when he asserts that differing social classes will always exist and that the point is not to seek to abolish them but to value the contributions of each to society. There's an interesting exchange too in the comments about class and opportunity.

If you have any thoughts on this topic feel free to post them here or at Mark's site.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Out of the Antiworld: right and left

For most of the 1900s, political debate in the Anglosphere countries was limited to arguments between right and left liberals.

James Kalb has described the differing outlooks of right and left liberals in his recent essay Out of the Antiworld. He argues that both kinds of liberals want to make individual preference the supreme good in society. Right-liberals tend to be those who like action and who therefore see the satisfaction of individual preference in terms of "the unlimited pursuit of career, power and money in a sort of competitive free-for-all". This right-liberal "party of action" focuses on "markets, entrepreneurs and minimal regulation."

The left-liberals want to maximise individual preference differently. This party consists of:
experts, officials, and explainers, who are enormously influential in a complex, bureaucratic, technological, and media-ridden society like our own. Such people are less interested in action and acquisition than in the creation of a scheme of total control through exact knowledge. The ideal they strive for is a sort of EU writ large, a universal system of social management run by expert functionaries that secures and fine-tunes maximum equal preference satisfaction for everyone everywhere. Such a system requires uniformity, centralization, and strict limits on disturbing factors like enterprise and competition.

In 1965 the Federal President of the Australian Liberal Party (our right-liberal party), Philip McBride, made this comment:
...We are not to be held back, nor do we want to see Australia held back, by the belief that our national destiny is to be found in a bureaucratic State where theorists are paramount

You can see that in 1965 right-liberals were focused on the debate with left-liberals, not with traditionalists. McBride saw his opposition as being the left-liberal party of "experts, officials and explainers".

But if the debate is limited to an argument between right and left liberals can we really be surprised if society drifts ever further in a liberal direction? James Kalb has made an excellent contribution with his essay to opening up debate, by criticising liberalism as an "operating system" rather than just opposing this or that liberal policy.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

James Kalb: Out of the Antiworld

James Kalb has written an excellent article titled Out of the Antiworld. It's best to read it in its entirety, but I'd like to focus in this post on just one aspect of it.

James Kalb describes the liberal moral system in his article and it reinforces some of the points I have been trying to make in recent posts. According to Kalb, the liberal understanding of what makes something rational includes a scepticism about what can be known and this rules out the idea of an objective moral order, so that the focus is put instead on what is subjective:
The result is that nothing can be held to have a natural goal or reason for being, and the only meaning something can have for us is the meaning we give it. In such a setting, wanting to do something is what makes it worth doing, and the good can only be the satisfaction of preferences simply as such. Morality becomes an abstract system that has nothing substantive to say about how to live but only tells us to cooperate so we can all attain whatever our goals happen to be.

Given such a view, the uniquely rational approach to social order is to treat it as a soulless, technically rational arrangement for maximizing equal satisfaction of equally valid preferences. That principle claims to maximize effective freedom, but it narrowly limits what is permissible lest we interfere with the equal freedom of others or the efficient operation of the system. Private hobbies and indulgences are acceptable, since they leave other people alone. So are career, consumption, and expressions of support for the liberal order. What is not acceptable is any ideal of how people should understand their lives together that is at odds with the liberal one. Such ideals affect other people, if only by affecting the environment in which they live, and that makes them oppressive. If you praise the traditional family, you are creating an environment that disfavors some people and their goals, so you are acting as an oppressor.

The result is that the contemporary liberal state cannot allow people to take seriously the things they have always taken most seriously.

Liberals claim to stand for individual freedom, but if you have a system in which everyone must be equally free to do as they will, then you cannot assert as a good anything which might limit what other people do, or which might even create an environment which defines things according to one view rather than another.

When you look at what then individuals are really left free to do you find that they are mostly left with the more trivial of choices rather than the more significant ones. Career is perhaps one of the more important choices left to people, which might partly explain why most liberals are so focused on the good of career. Then there are consumer choices, entertainments and travel. These can all be chosen in a way that doesn't necessarily interfere with the choices of others (though even with careers there are issues about who should be favoured or not in employment).

And what is lost? In general the things that matter most to people, as these require a community to defend them as public goods. For instance, most people want to live within a traditional community of their own, one in which they have a sense of continuity over time, a link between generations and the transmission of a particular culture and heritage. But to realistically offer this choice to people means that you must have some sort of borders between different communities - otherwise distinctions are lost. And the liberal system of equal freedom doesn't allow for such borders, because it would mean asserting as a public good a measure that would limit the freedom of some people (those not within the community) to exercise a choice (to join the community). It would mean, in other words, discriminating between people in order to uphold an important public good, thereby violating the non-discrimination rule.

But going to the shops and choosing how to spend your money is OK. Or deciding to go to Bali rather than the Gold Coast is also OK. That becomes what defines us as liberal subjects, it even defines our dignity as human individuals in the liberal understanding of things. But to most people it seems a trivial base on which to try to build a sense of human dignity and flourishing. It is "equally free" but at a depressingly low level. Aspects of life that are meant to be secondary are what are left to us; we lose the traditional anchors of identity and meaning and motivation; and we find that public life is dominated by people from everywhere shopping together.

There is one other aspect of James Kalb's article I'd like to discuss, but I'll leave that for a future post.

The Shepherd

Below is a painting by the Frenchman Claude Lorrain titled "Le Berger" (The Shepherd). Lorrain lived in the seventeenth century and is best known for his landscapes.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

UK immigration system revelations

Over the past two days there have been three articles at the Daily Mail dealing with immigration into the UK.

The first revealed that under the Blair Labour Government 74 per cent of job vacancies were taken by overseas applicants. That has fallen a little under the Cameron Government but still stands at 55 per cent. That's in a country with a million unemployed people aged under 25.

One Tory MP has called for UK employers to hire UK workers. According to Matthew Hancock only 7 per cent of UK firms have an apprenticeship scheme; he's encouraging UK companies to train local young people rather than take the "easy option" of bringing in workers from abroad.

But his efforts are being undermined by the EU. Another Daily Mail article has pointed out that the EU pays UK firms almost $1500 for hiring an overseas worker instead of a local one.

The final revelation is that over the past ten years 470,000 immigrants into the UK have been provided with social housing, i.e. their housing has been paid for by taxpayers.

It's not supposed to be like this. Where is the sense of the UK as a national community if there is an absence of group loyalty? And where is the motivation to maintain a strong culture of family life and a strong work ethic if government and employers can just get people and workers from overseas at will?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why then do liberals disallow some choices?

What do liberals believe about morality? I recently quoted Dr Leslie Cannold, an Australian ethicist, as follows:
Defining our own good, and living our lives in pursuit of it, is at the heart of a moral life.

So what matters to Dr Cannold is not what we happen to choose but that we get to define our own good.

There were readers of this site who doubted Dr Cannold's sincerity. They pointed out that traditionalists aren't allowed to define the good as we would like to and that certain choices that traditionalists would make are disallowed. Dr Cannold and other liberals, these readers claimed, are therefore not following a logical philosophy and are asserting their power in society in an arbitrary way.

But I don't think that's right. The liberal system logically forbids traditionalists to choose the kind of society we would like to have (by "logically" I don't mean that it's right that liberalism does this, but that the outcome follows from first principles).

It goes like this. Liberals believe in a freedom to self-determine. Therefore liberals don't want things that are predetermined to influence what we can or cannot choose to do.

But qualities like our sex and our race are predetermined. Therefore, a common liberal position is that:

i) it is permissible to freely identify with these qualities privately, i.e. as a matter of your own personal life

ii) it is wrong to assert these qualities in ways that might limit the choices that other people make.

You can, therefore, identify at a personal level with your own particular ancestry, but it would be considered wrong to deny someone entry as a migrant to your country on the basis of race. Similarly, you can choose to identify as a man or a woman, but you cannot select for employment on the basis of sex. If you deny someone an ability to choose on the basis of an unchosen, predetermined quality like their race or sex it is treated as discrimination based on these qualities, i.e. as "sexism" or "racism," and as a denial of equal opportunity.

So it is no use for a traditionalist to argue that his good is to have an immigration policy that leaves him with an ethnic homeland of his own or that his preference is for an army that does not employ women as combat troops, as both of these options discriminate on grounds that are unacceptable within the liberal system.

That's why traditionalists have to dig deeper and challenge liberalism on the basis of first principles. The issue to be fought is whether a freedom to self-determine is really an adequate basis on which to found a society. Traditionalists would argue that individual autonomy is not always and everywhere the overriding good to be pursued. To make it so is ultimately dissolving of the particular society you belong to. A wiser policy would be to accept a range of goods and to order them so that the social framework fits together (works together) to the greatest extent possible.

A couple of other observations. This aspect of liberalism, that you can hold to something as a private feeling but that you cannot assert it in a way that might limit what someone else can choose, explains those liberal politicians who talk positively about their own ancestry whilst enacting "non-discriminatory" migration policies which spell the end of particular ancestral identities.

The former Australian PM, Malcolm Fraser, was reportedly proud of his Scottish heritage, but was also an open borders man. An earlier PM, Sir Robert Menzies, was famous for his regard for his British heritage but oversaw the transformation of Australia into a mixed European nation. Menzies described his affection for his British heritage as being "sentimental" (a private sentiment rather than an identity to publicly uphold). A more recent PM, Paul Keating, identified not only with his Irish ancestry but with a strain of Australian larrikin culture - but, again, was fervently open-bordered. I have even heard some serving Labor MPs speak positively of their UK connections, but it would never cross their minds that such identities should be upheld through migration policy.

Finally, the argument has been raised that liberals aren't sincere in wanting people to self-define their own good and make their own autonomous choices, because the liberal state is happy to intrude paternalistically in discouraging smoking or in making people wear seat belts and so on.

But the seat belt or smoking issues don't really contravene liberal principles as these do not deny equal opportunity in the manner I described above but are rather "neutral" health measures that apply to everyone equally.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Is this Catholicism or liberalism?

The Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, has given a speech urging American Catholics to support the legalisation of millions of illegal immigrants.

What is particularly disturbing about the speech is that it is framed almost entirely within a political liberalism.

The archbishop breezily advocated the creation of a new America via immigration:
“Immigration,” he emphasized, “is a question about America.”

During his remarks, Archbishop Gomez addressed the root of the immigration debate by asking the questions that underlie the issue: “What does it mean to be an American? Who are we as a people and where are we heading as a country? What will the 'next America' look like?”

“What should the next America look like?”

Talk about a fast and loose attitude. There is no concern at all for upholding a people and a tradition, just a casual embrace of change from one America to the next.

Can such a fast and loose attitude really be confined to issues of national identity? If you're willing to throw out your nation this casually, then why not change your church or religion while you're at it. Why not ask "What should the next religion look like?"

To put this another way, most people don't compartmentalise the different strands of their own tradition. If we value our tradition, and see the good in it, and want to uphold it, then we are likely to want to hold to the different aspects of it, including our national identity and the religion associated with it.

But Archbishop Gomez wants us to be so careless of our tradition that we will throw away our national identity in favour of the next one - whilst still caring about the fate of the historic Western religion. He advocates that we adopt an attitude that is both careless and caring - a contradictory impulse that is unlikely to hold.

The archbishop then appealed to a liberal civic nationalism:
The archbishop noted G. K. Chesterton's comment that the U.S. is the only nation founded not on a material basis such as territory or race, but on a belief – a vision.

The Founding Fathers – the writers of the Declaration of Independence – envisioned a nation “where men and women from every race, religion and national background could live in equality.”

But these days all the Western nations hold to a liberal civic nationalism. It is not distinct at all - it makes America no different to Australia or Sweden or Canada. It is a mere pretence that such a nationalism makes America unique.

And here's another problem with basing a national identity on liberal values of equality and non-discrimination. Because every traditional society did discriminate in order to uphold its particularity, then they all failed the test of these values. Therefore, the past is looked on negatively in terms of how morally tainted it was. The archbishop himself has adopted this liberal mindset. He said,
The American Dream has always been “a work in progress...not fully delivered,” Archbishop Gomez told his listeners. Slavery, nativism, and race discrimination have always been blights upon that dream, the reality of which has been both “painful and partial.”

How can you maintain a sense of continuity and a love of tradition if you adopt this liberal understanding of what a nation should be? What does it mean if the word you use to describe the history of your tradition is "painful"?

And how would the church fare if it were held to the same standards? Should American Catholics turn their backs to the historic church because the church discriminated to maintain its sense of itself and of the good that it embodied? After all, the church did not ordain women. It discriminated against homosexuality. It did not see polygamy as being equal to monogamy. You might argue that the church would not be the church if it accepted everything as being equal; that, in fact, it would be pointless to have a church that accepted everything as equal - that it would no longer be meaningfully a church. And you would be right. But the same thing can be said of a nation. If a nation is universal then can it really be a nation?

Which brings me to a final point. Archbishop Gomez peppers his speech with appeals to liberal moral terms, such as diversity and anti-discrimination. This is unfortunate as these are the very moral concepts that are likely to increasingly impact on the church itself in America.

Why? These concepts derive from a liberal idea that what can be truly and definitively known about individuals are their wants and desires. These wants and desires therefore constitute the good that individuals seek, and so what matters is that they can be pursued equally without impediment. Therefore, if there is a morality, it is based on qualities of non-interference, i.e. on concepts of individual rights, of tolerance, inclusion and non-discrimination.

And so when the Catholic Church makes a different kind of moral pronouncement, one based on the idea that something is inherently right and wrong, and that it is so for all people (a non-relativist moral position) it is condemned by liberals as fundamentalist. What is more, it is thought to be judgemental and to violate principle of inclusiveness.

In a liberal morality, for instance, it makes no sense at all to oppose the idea of gay marriage. If that is what people want to do, then to respect their expression of desire equally means allowing them to do what they wish to do. It would be thought mere bigotry or a phobia or prejudice or discrimination to think otherwise. So why shouldn't the church be forced to agree to gay marriage or else face legal sanctions? If, that is, such a liberal morality really is legitimate.

But if it's not legitimate the church should not be using it to justify amnesty for illegal immigrants. It is a dangerous thing for the church to be supporting the use of liberal moral concepts when it wishes to do so, but then to suddenly swing around and object when these concepts are used against the church itself.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A tide of male depression?

Some not so great news:
One in 10 young Australian males contemplated suicide last year, a mental wellbeing study has found.

Researcher Jane Burns said the saddening revelation, to be included in a report to be released on Monday, reflected a mental health system that was failing young males. The survey found that nearly 70 of the 700 interviewed thought about taking their own lives and one in five felt "life is hardly worth living".

Some will no doubt say that the problem is masculinity itself, that men have to learn to express emotions and seek help and so on.

You have to wonder, though, whether the current drift of society isn't making it harder for young men to find the kind of anchors in life that they once did.

I can remember as a boy in the 1970s growing up with a very positive view of manhood. Australian men took pride in a history of masculine achievement. We were to live up to the achievements of previous generations of men, to take on the mantle of a proud tradition.

But increasingly the message has shifted to the idea that men in general, and white men in particular, have had a negative role and that any traditions they are associated with are morally tainted. I can't see how this message is likely to help young men build a strong sense of self-esteem or a positive regard for their role and place in society.

And modern life can seem empty. We exist to work and to shop and to be consumers of various kinds of entertainments. We are fundamentally to see ourselves as atomised individuals and to try to make sense of life on this basis.

This doesn't call on the deeper male instincts. We weren't made for this; there is no role in this for our strengths as men. Were we given our muscularity, or our instinct to serve and to protect, or our sense of honour and loyalty, just to end up wandering around a shopping mall buying things?

We are supposed to work together for larger ends, the most important of which is to uphold the existence of the peoples we belong to. And our role within the family is supposed to be a distinctly masculine one, a role that the wellbeing of the family depends on.

Not hedonism, not individual self-interest, not abstract universalism - none of these will ultimately work as anchors. None of these ties the best of what we are as men to a meaningful role in society.

Wordsworth's pedlar

What makes human life feel blessed? For William Wordsworth the experience of being deeply connected to nature brought about such a feeling. This experience was open to all, even to those of humble rank. The following lines are from the poem The Pedlar and the Ruined Cottage:

Claude Lorrain

From early childhood, even, as I have said,
From his sixth year, he had been sent abroad
In summer, to tend herds: such was his task
Henceforward till the later day of youth.
Oh! then what soul was his when on the tops
Of the high mountains he beheld the sun
Rise up, and bathe the world in light. He looked;
The ocean and the earth beneath him lay
In gladness and deep joy. The clouds were touched
And in their silent faces did he read
Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank
The spectacle; sensation, soul, and form
All melted into him; they swallowed up
His animal being: in them did he live,
And by them did he live: they were his life.
In such access of mind, in such high hour
Of visitation from the living God,
Thought was not. In enjoyment it expired.
No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request;
Rapt into still communion that transcends
The imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
His mind was a thanksgiving to the Power
That made him: it was blessedness and love.
A Herdsman on the lonely mountain tops,
Such intercourse was his, and in this sort
Was his existence oftentimes possessed.
Oh! then how beautiful, how bright appeared
The written Promise! He had early learned
To reverence the Volume which displays
The mystery, the life which cannot die:
But in the mountains did he feel his faith.
There did he see the writing. All things there
Breathed immortality, revolving life,
And greatness still revolving: infinite.
There littleness was not; the least of things
Seemed infinite, and there his spirit shaped
Her prospects, nor did he believe - he saw.
What wonder if his being thus became
Sublime and comprehensive! Low desires,
Low thoughts had there no place, yet was his mind
Lowly; for he was meek in gratitude
Oft as he called to mind those ecstasies
And whence they flowed, and from them he acquired
Wisdom which works through patience; thence he learned
In many a calmer hour of sober thought
To look on nature with an humble heart
Self-questioned where it did not understand
And with a superstitious eye of love.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The trifecta of privilege

In a discussion about the Zimmerman verdict, an American TV host, Thomas Roberts, claimed that being white, male and heterosexual was a "trifecta of privilege":
MIKE BARNICLE: You mentioned - that it was depressing, that it was a terrible weekend, that the verdict is unsettling for so many people in this country and probably around the world. I'll tell you what’s truly unsettling to me personally as a parent. I have three sons. Not one of those sons that I have to tell listen, don't run when you see a cop, you know don’t establish eye contact with a cop.


BARNICLE: You know, watch out when you're here. Watch out when you're there. I never had to do that. But if you're a black parent, you do that. You do that. It's part of raising your children.

ROBERTS: Well, with all due respect your three boys have hit the American trifecta of privilege.


ROBERTS: They are white, straight males. Presumably. So they have hit the trifecta of American privilege and from there we go down hill. So if you are an other in this country, and that means if you are an LGBT, if you are hispanic, if you are black, if you are a woman right now we are fighting to prove why other is no the bad and why we are due the value of our American rights. I mean, Trayvon's rights were obviously violated, stalked, followed presumed to be suspicious from the get-go by somebody who was the self-proclaimed watch commander of his neighborhood who was packing heat to go to the grocery store.

This is a familiar left-liberal way of seeing things. The focus is on some groups, namely whites, males and heterosexuals, being privileged at the expense of other groups.

If you look at indicators such as income, education and careers then it's not clear that white, male heterosexuals are always and everywhere privileged. Asian Americans do better than white Americans in all these areas; lesbians do better than heterosexual women when it comes to income; females do better than males when it comes to education and so on.

Thomas Roberts is himself homosexual. He wants to put himself in a non-privileged group, despite the fact that he has a high status, high income professional position.

So what explains the idea that white, heterosexual males are privileged? I think it happens for the following reason. Liberals believe that it is the act of choosing for ourselves that makes something moral. For this moral system to work, everyone must be equally free to self-define their own good. And this means that liberals will think it most wrong for some people to pursue their own self-determining choices at the expense of others seeking to do the same thing - that becomes the focus of moral evil.

The sense that liberals will have is that American society was created by the self-defining choices of white American males. That is what brought about the culture, the institutions and the environment that people live in. But that is a morally inadmissible situation; it means that the self-defining choices of this group of people defines the environment that other people live in.

A consequence of this is that it becomes important to deconstruct that culture and those institutions until they no longer exist as the environment that people live in.

So what then replaces them? There are two angles to this. First, it won't be thought so bad if the white culture is replaced by another one, as minority cultures are associated with resistance or subversion rather than the creation of systems of dominance or privilege. But, second, liberals might also aim at a diversity or plurality that prevents any one group from establishing a "hegemony".

And so the very mixed suburbs, in which no single group predominates, and which is experienced by traditionalists as lacking a clear expression of culture, fits in with liberal aims. The environment is no longer influenced by the self-defining choices of any particular group.

Therefore, it is not just markers of education, income and career which matter to liberals in defining privilege (though these are certainly part of the equation). There's also this other concern with the way that American institutions and culture have been defined by white heterosexual males and this concern cannot be allayed until traditional America has been thoroughly deconstructed.

Traditionalism has a very different starting point to liberalism which leads us in a radically different direction. We do not believe that it is the act of choosing for ourselves that makes something moral. Instead we believe that there are objective moral goods that can be known to us.

And so the aim is to discern and to defend what is good in human life. When we look at the culture and the institutions we inherit, our aim is to recognise the good that has been handed down to us within this tradition, and to build on it, rather than to look for patterns of privilege in how a social environment has been defined.

A part of the good that traditionalists recognise is being connected in our identity to our own culture and people (ethny). And so we do not wish to deconstruct these in order to create a "definition free" environment, but rather we want to maintain their continuity - we do not want to lose something that has a significant value, that inspires our love and which forms part of our identity and part of the setting which makes our social commitments meaningful.

Nor do we think of diversity in the same way that liberals might. For us, diversity is a world in which different peoples are allowed to predominate in different areas and so flavour those areas with their own distinct cultures. When liberals invoke diversity it has the sense of mixing cultures within a particular area so that no single one can predominate and define the environment. But that means that such an environment is likely to lack any clear cultural flavour.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Government admission on boat arrivals

You didn't have to be a genius to have figured this out already, but Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, has admitted that significant numbers of boat arrivals are not genuine asylum seekers but economic migrants:
we're getting many advise [sic] that it is economic pressure (and) economic aspirations (driving the arrivals)."

The latest boat, carrying 84 people, sailed directly from Vietnam, where there has been no conflict for 30 years.

Already this year, 759 Vietnamese boat people have come to Australia - the largest group to turn up since just after the Vietnam War - and more than four times the total number that has arrived in the three previous years.

One way to reform the current refugee system would be to resettle those claiming to be refugees in countries with a similar standard of living to their own (the costs of doing so could be borne by wealthier countries). This would remove the incentive toward economic migration.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Perils of the executive woman

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist and lecturer. Back in 2001 she wrote a piece for the Harvard Business School on the failure of career women to marry and have children. The statistics she provides in the article are eye-opening.

According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett's research 50% of the top earning women never had children, despite nearly 90% wanting to. (The actual statistic: 49% of women aged 41 to 55 earning $100,000 per year in 2001 were childless.)

Even women earning more modest incomes had difficulty forming families. Of women aged 41 to 55 in the $55,000 to $66,000 income bracket 57% were unmarried and 33% were childless.

This disruption to family formation also afflicted the previous generation of businesswomen. Research by Felice Schwartz undertaken in the late 1980s found that 65% of executive women aged 40 were childless.

Why the failure to form families? It's not because these women didn't want to marry or have children (between 86% and 89% of high earning women wanted children).

One problem identified by Sylvia Ann Hewlett is that some women weren't proactive enough in trying to form families when they were younger and time was on their side. She quotes a younger woman, Amy, who was still holding to this "delay" mindset:
Amy is just embarking on her career. Her story is probably typical. “I figure I’ve got 14, 15 years before I need worry about making babies,” she e-mailed me. “In my mid-30s, I’ll go back to school, earn an MBA, and get myself a serious career. At 40, I’ll be ready for marriage and family. I can’t tell you how glad I am that this new reproductive technology virtually guarantees that you can have a baby until 45. Or maybe it’s even later. Go doctors!”

Modern medicine notwithstanding, the chances of Amy’s getting pregnant in her 40s are tiny – in the range of 3% to 5%. The luxury of time she feels is, unfortunately, an illusion.

Ready for marriage and family at 40! The problem is not just that she overestimates the reproductive technology. It's that she is so ready to deprioritise marital and maternal love in favour of life in a cubicle. There is a lovelessness too in her readiness to deliberately deny her future husband her youthful beauty, passion and fertility.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett believes that Amy is being unwise. Amongst the recommendations at the end of her piece are these:
Give urgent priority to finding a partner. My survey data suggest that high-achieving women have an easier time finding partners in their 20s and early 30s.

Have your first child before 35. The occasional miracle notwithstanding, late-in-life child-bearing is fraught with risk and failure. Even if you manage to get one child “under the wire,” you may fail to have a second. This, too, can trigger enormous regret.

Finally, Sylvia Ann Hewlett also recognises the problem of hypergamy, namely that executive men are willing to marry women younger and poorer than themselves and so have a relatively large pool of potential spouses to choose from, whilst executive women are usually oriented to men with a similar or higher educational and career standing:
Only 39% of high-achieving men are married to women who are employed full-time, and 40% of these spouses earn less than $35,000 a year. Meanwhile, nine out of ten married women in the high-achieving category have a husband who are employed full-time or self-employed and a quarter are married to men who earn more than $100,000 a year. Clearly, successful women have slim pickings in the marriage departments – particularly as they age. Professional men seeking to marry typically reach into a large pool of younger women, while professional women are limited to a shrinking pool of eligible peers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, at age 28 there are four college-educated, single men for every three college-educated single women. A decade later, the situation is radically changed. At age 38, there is one man for every three women.

Perhaps some things have changed in the culture of relationships since the piece was written, but at the very least it stands as a testament to the disruption to family that has taken place in past decades.

Grimshaw: In the golden olden time

Another work by John Atkinson Grimshaw, from about 1870 (click for the best view):

In The Golden Olden Time

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ch.6 Morality

What kind of morality fits in best with liberalism?

I won’t attempt a complete answer here, as it’s such a complex topic. I can, though, point to some of the features of a liberal morality.

Liberals want the individual, above all, to be self-determining. Therefore, for liberals the moral thing is that our autonomy in choosing what to do remains unimpeded. It matters less what we choose than that we have freely chosen it.

This means that the “moral” thing is the act of defining for ourselves what the good is. That is why Dr Leslie Cannold, an Australian ethicist, claims that,
Defining our own good, and living our lives in pursuit of it, is at the heart of a moral life.

But this makes a liberal morality, at least in certain respects, permissive. It means that whatever we do is moral, as long as we have freely chosen to do it.

According to Dr Mirko Bargaric, an Australian human rights lawyer,
we are morally complete and virtuous individuals if we do as we wish so long as our actions do not harm others

The permissive nature of this formulation is clear enough: we are made perfectly moral simply by doing what we want, just as long as we don’t harm others.

Where does this leave traditional morality? It was traditional to believe that there are enduring, objective, knowable moral truths. Some behaviours, therefore, could be judged as being inherently right or wrong.

This doesn’t sit well with the liberal understanding of morality. It means that our behaviour is not entirely ours to determine; that there are rightly limitations on how we act; and that the source of these limitation is external to our own will.

For liberals, this will seem both artificial and oppressive. In a liberal culture, a traditional moral code will often be explained away as an act of power by one social group over another and traditional moral restraints are likely to be challenged in the name of personal liberation.

This makes liberal morality, in one of its phases at least, transgressive. Those who break traditional moral codes or taboos will be looked on favourably as paving the way forward, or perhaps as being cool and cutting-edge.

As an example, consider the case of Clare Edwards. She’s a young Perth woman who advertised in her local paper for sperm donors and then raised the resulting children on welfare. Her local paper, the Subiaco Post, praised her as representing the,
independent and can-do spirit of her generation, young people unbounded by the conventions of older generations

She is morally virtuous, according to the paper, not because she followed an action that is inherently good, but because she acted independently (autonomously) by breaking a moral convention.

Finding a moral language

But what happens if you’re a liberal and you want to object to something on moral grounds? It might be difficult for you to find the language to express your moral objections. After all, if anything that people freely choose to do is moral, then how can you criticise someone’s choices?

One way that a liberal can object to something on moral grounds is to claim that a choice hasn’t been freely made. Perhaps the choice has been coerced in some way, or perhaps it isn’t an authentic want but has been made for the benefit of others.

As an example of this, consider the attitude of Mia Freedman to raunch culture. Mia Freedman was once an editor of the Australian women’s magazines Cosmopolitan and Cleo. When, though, she had a daughter of her own she turned against the raunch culture peddled to young women (in magazines like the ones she edited):
Raunch culture alarms me horribly, especially as I get older and now that I'm the parent of a daughter. Women embrace it because of the shock value, but that will wear off...

Her moral disapproval, though, met resistance from her own mother:
Ironically, I've found myself having to explain to my mother why raunch culture is not a good thing. She's like, "But hang on, isn't this what we fought for as feminists? For women to be able to express themselves in whatever way they choose and reclaim their sexuality?”

Mia Freedman made this reply:
I said, this is different. It's not about women having a threesome because they want to have one. It's about a girl pashing another girl in a nightclub to impress a boy. If it was an organic expression of how they feel, I'd say go for it.

This is all very liberal. The debate is not about whether the acts themselves are moral or not, but about whether women are truly following their own wants. The mother is still in transgressive mode: she is focused on the struggle to break down moral impediments to women’s behaviour. The daughter agrees that there should be no impediments, but she argues that young women are not following their own, authentic wants.

It’s not a very effective way to express a moral objection. All that the young women pursuing a raunch culture have to do to meet this objection is to affirm that they are, indeed, doing what they do to empower themselves, rather than to please boys.

And that’s why actions are often justified in a liberal society in terms of agency, empowerment and free will. These are qualities which are supposed to prove that our choices are authentically ours – which then makes our actions moral.

A good example of this is the controversy surrounding a Nandos TV advertisement. The ad featured a pole dancing mother, naked except for a g-string, thrusting her backside at men for tips, before returning home to her family with a chicken dinner. After public complaints, the ad was brought before the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau. Nandos defended the ad on the basis that the mother:
was clearly in charge of her own destiny. The woman we depict in the commercial is shown to be intelligent, in control and making her own choices. She is not being coerced by the man in any way. She is acting in accordance with her own free will … Many women see the open display of female sexuality as a forthright display of empowerment.

The Board agreed that the woman was portrayed in a way that made it clear that she was not coerced and that therefore there was nothing to object to in the ad:
The Board noted many complaints about the depiction of a mother and wife as a pole dancer/prostitute … The Board considered that this advertisement depicted a strong in control woman who went about her work in a professional manner (wearing a suit to work), enjoyed her work, enjoyed being 'sexy' and enjoyed time with her family. The Board considered that this advertisement depicted the woman as being a strong and empowered woman.

The moral issue is no longer whether it is right to show a mother prostituting herself for money in a TV ad, but whether or not the woman is portrayed as making an authentically free choice. And to make it clear that it really is an authentic choice the person doing it is described as strong, empowered, in control and enjoying what they do.

Here’s another example of this logic at work. In an American newspaper burlesque dancing was defended on these grounds:
DeLuxe said burlesque ... represented a rebellion against the restrictive morality of the time ... Modern burlesque performers are clearly in charge of their own destiny ... "The woman doing it is completely in control of her own sexuality. She decides."

This is a dual defence. First, burlesque is defended as being transgressive: as liberating individuals from “the restrictive morality of the time”. Second, it is emphasised that the burlesque dancers are entirely uncoerced, that they are in control and in charge of what they doing.

In short, it is difficult to express moral disapproval of an act by claiming that a choice is inauthentic. This is too easily met by the counterclaim that a choice is empowering or is a genuine expression of someone’s agency.

There are other ways that liberals can try to express moral disapproval. They can argue about whether someone has genuinely consented to an act, but this in practice places few limits on what people might do.

Liberals can also invoke the no harm principle, the idea that anything is permissible as long as it doesn’t harm others. But the general thrust of this principle is a permissive one; it seems to be understood as meaning “As long as you don’t physically injure or steal from anyone else, you can do whatever”. So, again, it’s not very useful for expressing moral concerns.

Finally, liberals can talk in a more abstract way about the need for people to show respect. This is a more useful option for liberals as the notion of respect doesn’t necessarily rule anything out and at the same time it can be used to appeal to people’s moral natures.

This can sometimes result in mixed messages. For instance, men might have it drummed into them that they must respect women, whilst at the same time living in an “anything goes” lad and ladette culture.

A case in point involves an Australian ethicist, Professor Catharine Lumby. She rejects morality on the basis that it isn’t something that is self-defined:
Morality is a blueprint for living that someone hands to you.

She prefers the idea of “ethics” as this is something that can be individually negotiated:
Ethics is a zone we all enter when we find ourselves, by choice or necessity, negotiating those rules.

What matters to a liberal like Professor Lumby is not what is chosen, but that we ourselves get to do the choosing.

In 2004, she was appointed by the National Rugby League to educate rugby players about sexual ethics, following complaints about some players having group sex with young women. She made it clear that she did not believe in an objective, knowable moral good:
The idea that group sex is abhorrent is a very particular view. What matters is that we avoid asserting moral beliefs as moral truths.

What did matter was the issue of consent:
ABC reporter: There have been stories of a culture of group sex in rugby league. What do you think of group sex? Do you think it's OK if it's consensual?

Lumby: Speaking as an academic, I think that there's no problem with any behaviour which is consensual in sexual terms.

She also added that there must be respect:
[Lumby] has since said what matters isn't that players use women in group sex, but that they treat these women with respect...

But here’s the problem. The police who investigated the complaints against the rugby players found no evidence of a lack of consent. Whatever damage was done happened despite consent being given.

Second, if Lumby were right we would have to believe that young rugby players are going to develop an attitude of respect for women who consent to casual group sex. It’s that mixed message that tells young men that there are no real moral standards, and that therefore anything goes, but that they should still in a more old-fashioned way have respect for women.

Andrew Bolt picked up on this point when he questioned how Professor Lumby could,
imagine sportsmen boozily sharing some groupie they've picked up for a gang-bang and treating her with courtesy. As an equal. With respect...

Yes, Lumby really seems to think that's how gang bangs work. Or could, if only we left our sad old morality on the chair with our jeans.


So far I have described the permissive side of a liberal morality, the one which is focused on the idea that something is moral if you freely choose to do it.

But liberalism doesn’t always strike people as permissive. There is a logic by which liberalism generates a highly strung morality of its own, one which tends, if anything, to be intrusive or even authoritarian.

How does this aspect of a liberal morality come about? In part, it has to do with the liberal belief in individual autonomy. Liberals believe that an autonomous, self-determining life is the basis of human freedom and dignity. But this then requires liberals to make predetermined qualities like our sex and ethnicity not matter, at least in a social setting.

But these predetermined qualities are basic to life. They help to shape our identities and our relationships and are not easy to suppress.

And so liberals have had to force their own moral code on the rest of society. They have used state power to enforce speech codes; they have created at times a stifling atmosphere of political correctness; and they have used their influence in the institutions to intimidate those who would otherwise speak out.

Remember too that liberals believe that they are upholding human freedom and dignity. This means that those who oppose liberalism are thought to be denying basic goods in life to other people. They are thought, in other words, to hold morally indefensible views and are often criticised using highly charged moral terms such as “sexist” or “bigot”. Opposition to liberalism is often treated (by liberals) as a moral or intellectual failing (a result of prejudice or ignorance) rather than as a legitimate difference of opinion in philosophy or politics or values.

A conundrum

How else does a liberal morality become intrusive? In theory, liberalism is supposed to maximise individual autonomy, so that individuals can choose freely for themselves what they can do or be.

But there is an inbuilt limitation to this freedom of choice. For instance, let’s say that women have to choose whether to stay at home to look after their children or to go to work.

There is a conundrum here for a liberal morality. If women choose to stay at home then the aim of maximising autonomy is contravened, as these women will be thought to be dependent on their husbands for support. But if these women are not given the choice to stay at home, then that too contravenes the aim of maximising autonomy, as they have a restriction placed on their freedom of choice.

There is no principled way out for liberalism here, so there are endless debates about what the true liberal position is. However, in practice what happens is that the choices that don’t fit in well with liberalism are gradually made more difficult to make. There is either social or economic pressure placed on individuals to make the “right” choice (by liberal standards) rather than having a genuinely free choice.

It is a case of individuals being manoeuvred into the “correct” choices over time. In other words, if the end goal is to maximise autonomy, then people will be expected to make choices which maximise autonomy – they will be discouraged from giving priority to other goods which they themselves find significant.


For liberals, it is the act of choosing which makes something moral. But if I choose something which deprives someone else of their freedom to choose, the liberal system no longer works. It would mean that I get to be a moral agent, but the other person doesn’t. It would mean that I get to enjoy human freedom and dignity at the expense of someone else.

Therefore, in order to make a liberal moral system work, liberals emphasise moral qualities of non-interference. The aim is to not infringe on how other people define the good, or the moral choices that other people make. This leads liberals to recognise as virtues qualities such as tolerance, openness, inclusiveness and respect, as well as an acceptance of diversity, non-discrimination, pluralism and non-judgementalism.

It sounds like an easy going moral focus, but in practice it’s not. If you are thought to violate a morality of non-interference, it is held to be an offensive and dangerous act in which you are denying an equal status to others and infringing on their human rights and dignity.

This can make liberals very intolerant of what they see as violations of their moral system. It leads to a seeming contradiction: liberals can be amongst the most judgemental in society in the name of a non-judgemental morality and they can be the most fiercely hostile in condemning what they disagree with whilst at the same time preaching the virtue of tolerance.

There is another problem with a liberal morality of non-interference: it is dissolving of the society which adopts it.

A morality of non-interference is silent when it comes to the kinds of qualities that might uphold a tradition, such as loyalty or love of country. All that is required of the liberal moral actor is a kind of neutrality, a willingness to accept whatever other individuals define as the good.

And when people are persuaded that neutrality is the correct moral position, they are more likely to take the role of passive observers who move amongst other cultures and traditions rather than asserting one of their own.

Even if the liberal moral actor does identify positively with his own tradition, he is likely to see this as his own self-defined or self-created good that applies to himself alone. His love for his own tradition loses the status of an objective good to be defended more generally at a public level. This leaves traditions undefended; they can be appreciated individually, but not upheld as a common good.

There is also a logic by which a liberal morality leads not just to neutrality but to an active bias against one’s own tradition.

A liberal morality emphasises qualities such as diversity, non-discrimination and inclusiveness. That can make traditional communities, based on particularity, seem immoral. The criticism will be raised that traditional communities, rather than being diverse, are too homogeneous and monocultural, and that instead of being inclusive and non-discriminatory, that they are exclusive of others.

Also, if you believe that the most virtuous person is the one who is most committed to qualities like diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination, then you might attempt to show your superior virtue by identifying with whoever is thought to be most “other” to your own society. This is how you can display your commitment to inclusion and pluralism and other similar qualities.

But if this is how superior virtue is demonstrated, then it can become a mark of elite moral status to demonstrate solidarity with those most alien to your tradition, rather than with those you are most closely related to.

This encourages a split between the social elite and the rank and file. The elite see the rank and file as morally backward in comparison to themselves and instead of a solidarity based on a shared tradition the elite look instead to those who are thought to be the least connected to this tradition.


If a single, general criticism of liberal morality had to be made it would be that a liberal morality is not “moralising” but rather demoralising.

The liberal approach makes our moral acts largely meaningless. If something is made moral because I freely choose it, then it doesn’t really matter what I choose. One act is as good as another as long as it is my authentic want.

It’s true that a liberal might see the act of choosing itself as a moral thing, but that is hardly a great moral achievement. It’s not that difficult to follow our own wants.

In contrast, the challenge in the preliberal past was to discern a moral course of action and to discipline ourselves to it. That was part of the cultivation of character and a quest for moral excellence.

Furthermore, in the past it was thought that in acting morally we were connecting with a higher good, that is to say, with objective, enduring, moral truths that transcend the self. But a liberal morality does not transcend the self, it remains at the level of our own subjective wants.

Nor can a liberal morality satisfy our need to belong to a moral community. It is difficult to establish moral ideals or standards when the emphasis is on each individual defining his own good and tolerating others doing the same. How can a moral standard, in the sense of a limit on what is considered acceptable, be upheld within this framework? Whatever the least morally refined are willing to do will set the new low point of what is acceptable within society. You end up with a morality of the lowest common denominator.

Yes, liberals attempt to overcome this loss of moral community by focusing on the values of non-interference as the new moral standards. We are thought to be good people if we hold to these qualities and villains if we don’t. And if our community keeps to the values of non-interference we are allowed to hold it in positive regard; if it doesn’t, we are supposed to feel a collective moral shame.

But this reworking of moral community is in itself demoralising. Did communities in the past keep to liberal values of non-interference? They didn’t because they were concerned to defend their particularity. There is a good chance, therefore, that when liberals do ask whether they can hold their community in a positive regard, that they will answer negatively. The past will never measure up to liberal values and so liberals might either turn away from their heritage, or focus on the idea of a morally progressive present generation starting anew, or else have a sense that the past is something to associate with collective shame or guilt.

There do exist liberals who take a more upbeat approach. These liberals take pride in how their society has led the way in promoting liberal values. They have a positive sense of their society as a moral community.

But this too puts the members of that society in a difficult position. They are being asked to base their positive regard for their community on the observance of a moral code that is, as we saw previously, dissolving of their own particular tradition. What is given with one hand is taken away with the other.


In a liberal morality, we ourselves make something moral by choosing it freely. We ourselves get to define the good (for us).

I hope I have succeeded in suggesting the kinds of problems that this starting point leads to. But there remains one last question to be answered. If we ourselves don’t get to define the good, then who does?

That’s the response often made by liberals when their moral system is questioned. Liberals are fearful that someone else will assume the responsibility for determining how they should act morally. Who, they ask, could possibly be entrusted with the authority for deciding what is moral?

The answer is that there is no single person with such authority.

The way that individuals within a society come to an understanding of what is moral is complex. We might have a moral intuition, or a sense derived from conscience, of what is inherently moral or immoral. We might also learn from the consequences of actions what it is that brings harm to ourselves or others. We might use moral reasoning to ensure that our moral beliefs are logically consistent. Our moral sense might be derived as well from the inherited experience of a community, of what the best minds have thought over time, or of how a community has learnt over many generations from its mistakes. Or perhaps we might learn from role models within the community who we particularly admire. It is possible that we might be influenced as well by our function in society; a soldier, for instance, might be oriented to qualities like courage and loyalty, whilst for a small trader qualities of industry and honesty might loom larger. It will often be the case as well that religious texts and traditions will influence the moral code of a society.

And the moral sense we derive from all this has to be fitted together, so that the different aspects of reality are appropriately ordered.

It is not the case that one person in society can be delegated to suddenly decide on all this. Instead, it is an ongoing process of a whole society, a continuing attempt to refine the moral understanding. This process takes place within families, schools, universities, churches, political parties, parliaments and the media. Both the fine arts and popular culture have an influence.

It is impossible to guarantee that a society will get it completely right, but the closer a society approaches to getting it right, the more likely it is to stay on course in its development and to retain the loyalty and love of its members.

Next chapter: Trivial pursuits

Autumn Gold

I've spent some time working on my booklet today, so instead of a post here are some more paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw to enjoy (click for a better view).

Reflection on the Thames, Westminster, 1880

Autumn Gold

Friday, July 12, 2013

Golden Light

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that John Atkinson Grimshaw is one of the most underrated painters. I've posted some of his work previously here. The painting below is titled Golden Light and was painted in 1893 when the artist was 57 (it looks even better if you click on it). I'll be posting some more of his paintings in coming weeks.

A new book

James Kalb has a new book out called Against Inclusiveness: how the diversity regime is flattening America and the West and what to do about it.

It's available from Amazon here. If you click on the link the Amazon page lets you read a few pages as a sample.

I've ordered my own copy and will endeavour to write a review later, but in the meantime I'd encourage readers to have a look and to consider a purchase.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Does Pope Francis want a Muslim Europe?

Pope Francis has chosen as his first papal visit the island of Lampedusa. This is an island belonging to Italy but close to the African coastline. It is where Muslim Africans seeking to enter Europe illegally head for.

In a sermon on Lampedusa, Pope Francis made it clear that he supports the migration of Muslims into Europe "on their voyage toward something better". He said,
I give a thought, too, to the dear Muslim immigrants that are beginning the fast of Ramadan, with best wishes for abundant spiritual fruits. The Church is near to you in the search for a more dignified life for yourselves and for your families. I say to you “O’ scia’!” [trans.: a friendly greeting in the local dialect].

This doesn't bode well for the Church under Pope Francis. First, it means that the Church is committing itself to a false and unorthodox understanding of solidarity. Second, it means that the Church is orienting itself toward fitting in with secular liberal modernity rather than standing against it.

I knew immediately when I first read about the Pope's visit (hat tip: Laura Wood) that this was an expression of a certain understanding of solidarity. And, sure enough, in the Pope's sermon he takes solidarity as his theme. For instance, he says in reference to those Muslim African immigrants who drowned chancing the voyage to Lampedusa:
These our brothers and sisters seek to leave difficult situations in order to find a little serenity and peace, they seek a better place for themselves and for their families – but they found death. How many times do those who seek this not find understanding, do not find welcome, do not find solidarity!

Why call this a false understanding of solidarity? It is false because it is part of the tendency to redefine solidarity as meaning compassion for the "suffering other". Who could be more "other" to Europeans than Muslim Africans? Therefore, it is with them that we are to find solidarity.

There is a disastrous logic to this understanding of solidarity. If we are to welcome and find solidarity precisely with those most different to us, then we will necessarily dissolve our own existence. If solidarity requires Europe to welcome African Muslims, then the long-term result will be the dissolution of a European Christianity. Pope Francis is following a policy that will ultimately dissolve his own church.

In truth, solidarity is based on relatedness, and the particular loves and duties which flow from these forms of relatedness. Therefore, I am commanded to honour my father and mother, because of the close and particular relationship I have with them. I am to provide for and protect my wife and children as part of my duties as a husband and father. I am not to shame my family name, nor to be disloyal to my ethnic kin. And, yes, it is true that I am also to be hospitable to the stranger, as I do have a degree of relatedness to him as someone made, like me, in the image of God. But my duty, and my compassion, toward the stranger, does not oblige me to do harm to those I am more closely connected to.

That is why the Catholic Church developed the ordo caritatis:
The exercise of charity would soon become injudicious and inoperative unless there be in this, as in all the moral virtues, a well-defined order...

The precedence is plain enough...Regarding the persons alone, the order is somewhat as follows: self, wife, children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends, domestics, neighbours, fellow-countrymen, and all others.

That is the orthodox Catholic position. So why are so many churchmen reversing the order of charity?

Unfortunately, I think it has to do with an ongoing dispute in the Church about how the Church should relate to the secular liberal world around it.

The last pope, Pope Benedict, early in his life supported Vatican II, which was supposed to lead to the Church being more open to the secular world. But over time he saw how the principles of liberal modernity clashed with those of the Church and he took the view that the Church would have to resist, rather than join in with, the trends within the larger society.

Pope Benedict was very skilled in describing the principles of liberal modernity and how they could not be reconciled with those of Christianity. In particular, this is true of his writings on gender and the family (see here and here). But even on issues of communal identity he was critical of trends within secular liberalism. For instance he said:
This case illustrates a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a self-acceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive.

Multiculturalism, which is so passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one's own things

He also opposed the idea of Turkish admission to the European Union on these grounds:
In the course of history, Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe. Making the two continents identical would be a mistake. It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of the cultural to the benefit of economics.

But there is a significant section of the Church which wishes to reconcile itself with liberal modernity. And one way that this can be achieved is for the Church to emphasise the theme of "solidarity with the stranger" because that fits in well with the liberal belief in "solidarity with the other".

Where do liberals get this belief in solidarity with the other?  I think it has to do with the way that liberal morality has developed over time. Liberals believe in autonomy as the overriding good. Therefore, they believe that what matters is that we are unimpeded in freely choosing what we do, i.e. what matters is the free choice, rather than what we choose.

However, this requires us to not infringe on other people making free choices. Therefore, a liberal morality will also emphasise qualities of non-interference, such as openness, diversity, tolerance and non-discrimination. So these become the liberal equivalents to positive virtues. And how then do you show that you are the most virtuous? You have to be the one who is most open and tolerant and non-discriminating and welcoming of diversity.

And how do you show this? You show this by identifying with (and being in solidarity with) the people who are most "other" to your own society. Hence the liberal cult of the other.

So can you be a good Catholic and also a good liberal? Not really, given that liberals don't generally believe in objective forms of morality and, as Pope Benedict pointed out, the liberal pursuit of autonomous freedom is incompatible with the Christian tradition. But those Catholics who want to approach liberal modernity can do so by emphasising the idea of "solidarity with the other". That's where a point of crossover can be constructed.

Further reading on this issue:

Upholding the four relationships

Losing the particular

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Charles Sims

Charles Sims was born in Islington, London, in 1873. He became successful as an artist quite early in life, from 1896 onwards. He seems to have been particularly inspired by the beauty of well-dressed women, but also by nature, family and classical mythology.

His life became troubled during the First World War. He lost one of his young sons and he found it difficult to cope with what he witnessed as a war artist.

Here are some of his earlier works, painted prior to the war:

The Kite

Untitled, 1898

The Little Faun 1906

Exaltation of a flower 1906

In Elysium

Artist's wife and son on the dunes at Etretat, Normandy

Monday, July 08, 2013

Bridge Lady

You might have seen the news item about an Australian woman marrying a bridge in the south of France.

She's an interesting mix of things this bridge lady, Jodi Rose. First, she represents an unfortunate trend, the idea of "art as therapy":
I also worked out fairly early on in life that if I wanted to avoid being locked away in an institution, I better find myself a context where whatever I did or said would be accepted, if not always totally acceptable. Which is why I chose  a career in the arts, the crazier you are as an artist, the better. Not that I have an actual mental disorder, more a tendency to melancholy and borderline depression, with an overactive imagination.

It ought to be the very opposite, it ought to be the most spiritually and psychologically "centred" who express what is best in the human experience through art.

The masculine husband: the historic Devil's bridge in the south of France

And what does Jodi Rose want in life? She wants incompatible things, a mix of modernity and tradition. She wants absolute freedom, but also love and security.

And this mix came out in her wedding ceremony. She values the bridge for having some advanced masculine qualities, whilst at the same time leaving her perfectly free to do whatever she wants:
The Devil’s Bridge is everything I could desire in a husband - sturdy, trustworthy, sensual, kind and handsome...This is not a decision I undertake lightly, just as our curves complement, we truly bring joy to each other, and the strength of his pylons will always carry me home. Bridgeland is love!

The story of our romance is a modern love fable...Although he is made of stone, the resonance of his being is very present, and I feel at peace in his strong embrace. He makes me feel connected to the earth and draws me to rest from my endless nomadic wanderings.

In his early years, women like me – educated, independent, unmarried - had an unfortunate tendency to end up in the hands of the inquisition, accused of being the Devil’s consorts and burned on the stake as witches. Women who exert too much independence, sexual knowledge or freedom may still be crucified on the stake of the mass media, while attitudes to those who remain unmarried, for whatever reason, are a combination of envy, speculation and pity, which although it may sting the ego, is preferable to being thrown onto a burning pyre or relegated to unpaid domestic labour.

While I respect those whose romantic and sexual feelings are oriented towards objects, mine is a symbolic affair, a pagan / animist view of the spiritual vibration in everything. He understands that I love other bridges – and men – ours is a love that embraces the vagaries of life, as materialised in the swirling currents of the river that flows beneath his magnificent body.

This is why I am marrying the bridge. He is fixed, stable, rooted to the ground, while I am nomadic, transient, ever on the road. He gives me a safe haven, brings me back to ground myself, and then lets me go again to follow my own path, without trying to keep me tied down or in thrall to his needs or desires. I am devoted to him. The perfect husband… strong and silent!

Interesting. On the one hand, she hasn't really bought into the liberal idea of gender sameness. She is clearly yearning for what is masculine, strong and protective. At the same time, she has bought into the liberal idea about female independence in a big way.

Jodi Rose with her bridge

So it's little wonder she's ended up with a bridge. She sees the job of a husband very traditionally as having the strength to protect. Her job, it seems, is to be independent and footloose. It's not exactly the basis for a successfully complementary relationship.

Someone needs to tell Jodi Rose that women need to embody something more than independence if they are going to offer something compellingly attractive to masculine men. She needs to think about what there is within femininity that is likely to inspire love, but to do this she will first have to liberate herself from political ideas which associate femininity negatively with oppression and thraldom.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Heleen Mees Dutch feminist

Feminism in Holland is a bit different. 75% of women there choose to work part-time rather than full-time in order to have a balanced lifestyle. In one survey, only 4% of Dutch women said that they wanted to increase their work hours.

But one Dutch feminist wasn't happy with this compromise. Heleen Mees set up a feminist organisation called "Women on Top" which is against the idea of women choosing to stay at home or to work part-time. According to Mees career is what matters in life and women should be competing with men for money.

Heleen Mees

And at one level Mees did well in her pursuit of career. She became a columnist and opinion maker in the Netherlands; she was at one time being considered for government positions; and she became a professor of economics at New York University. She achieved the aim of a glamorous, high status career.

But maybe her view of life as a competitive pursuit of career had some missing elements. Maybe those Dutch women who wanted some personal happiness based on family and relationships were onto something.

Heleen Mees has been arrested for stalking her ex-lover, a married, 63-year-old economist named Willem Buiter. She sent him (and his wife and children) over 1000 emails, including threats ("I hope your plane falls out of the sky) and photos of dead birds.

Described as "friendless" Mees was unable to post $5000 bail and was eventually freed only after a New York plumber took pity on her.

Things haven't turned out well for her. I don't think this is entirely accidental. She neglected, as part of her politics, the importance of marriage and family and found herself in her early 40s in the role of mistress to a much older, married man instead. And even that wasn't a durable relationship.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Does Evin Cetin really love all Swedes?

The Swedish Social Democrats are the left-liberal party in that country. One of their members is a young woman of Kurdish descent by the name of Evin Cetin.

Evin Cetin does not like the rival Sweden Democrats, the party of Swedish nationalists. So she dressed up in Swedish national costume and claimed that she was "more Swedish" than the Sweden Democrats because she "loved all Swedes":
"For me, Swedishness is about tolerance, about openness, about helping people and giving people the chance to build a good life," she tells The Local, adding that it's a political ideology she hopes to take with her to Brussels if elected.

"Wearing national dress on the Sweden Democrats' day was sending a very clear message that we should not hand over the concept of Swedishness to forces that are against Sweden," she said.

"The Sweden Democrats are Sweden-hostile."

Cetin said she considers herself more Swedish than the Sweden Democrats because she loves nine million Swedes, whereas the party only loves about five million.

"They only love some Swedes, I love all of them."

But here's the kick to this story. Evin Cetin caused some controversy last year when she made a trip to the Middle-East and was photographed dancing with the guerrilla fighters of Kurdistan’s Free Life Party (PJAK).

Evin Cetin dancing with Kurdish guerrilla fighters

So on the one hand Evin Cetin wants to define the Swedish people out of existence by claiming that Swedish identity is based on nothing more than tolerance and helping people. But on the other hand she supports an armed struggle for a homeland for her own Kurdish ethnic group.

Evin Cetin doesn't love all Swedes. If she did she would want the same goods for them that she claims for herself, including the good of being able to live within an ethnic homeland. Her willingness to define the Swedes out of existence as one of the distinct peoples of the world is an act of aggression not of love.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Who does Dave want to add to Europe?

David Cameron, British PM, has made a speech about expanding the boundaries of the European Union:
Talking to Kazakh students in the capital Astana he said: “Britain has always supported the widening of the EU. “Our vision of the EU is that it should be a large trading and co-operating organisation that effectively stretches, as it were, from the Atlantic to the Urals. “We have a wide vision of Europe and have always encouraged countries that want to join.”

He wants Kazakhstan to join? Kazakhstan is a country in central Asia (it shares a border with China). The Kazakhs themselves are a Muslim Turkic group (though there is a sizeable minority of Russians living in Kazakhstan).

A Kazakh wedding

It's true that 10% of Kazakhstan lies west of the Ural mountains - presumably Cameron is using this to justify the idea of Kazakhstan joining the EU.

Cameron's speech is a reminder of the weakness of the liberal approach to nationalism. Liberals have ditched the traditional idea of nationalism, in which people were connected together by a shared ethnicity - a common language, culture, race, religion and history - and instead opted for a civic nationalism, in which people were to be united by a common commitment to liberal political institutions and values.

But this liberal civic nationalism is unstable. If all that is needed to belong to a "nation" is a shared commitment to liberalism, then potentially anyone can join. If Kazakhstan proves to meet certain political criteria, then it can join a "European" union even if its population is majority Turkic and Muslim and even if its landmass is 90% in Central Asia. In other words, there are no limits to the boundaries of a civic nation and if there are no limits it becomes meaningless to talk of a particular national identity. You might as well just sign up to the UN and be done with it.

The Kazakhstan speech also shows yet again just how much David Cameron is committed to a liberal view of things rather than a traditionalist conservative one. We shouldn't be surprised by this. After all, Cameron has made his own commitment to liberalism very clear:
today we have a Conservative Party … which wants Britain to be a positive participant in the EU, as a champion of liberal values.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Who has the right?

Tiberge at Gallia Watch has found an interesting quote from a group in France called the CCIF (which, in English, stands for "Collective against Islamophobia in France").

The CCIF is a group which fights "Islamophobia" - a fear of Islam. It has had success in winning recognition from the powers-that-be:
in 2011 we won a true international recognition by forging a partnership with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and becoming an advisory member of the United Nations (UN).

But here is the quote from the CCIF that Tiberge found. The words were spoken by Marwan Muhammed, spokesman for the organisation:
Who has the right to say that France in thirty or forty years will not be a Muslim country? Who has the right? Nobody has the right to take that from us, nobody has the right to deny us that hope. To deny us the right to hope for a global society faithful to Islam.

So the CCIF wants to suppress the voices of those concerned that France might become a Muslim country ("Islamophobia") whilst at the same time defending passionately the right of French Muslims to hope that France will within their own lifetimes become a Muslim country.

It's an interesting example of the way that words like "Islamophobia" are used for aggressive purposes, i.e. to disarm opposition to an agenda that is hostile to the majority.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A trad manifesto

Mark Moncrieff has put together a traditionalist manifesto at his site. Have a look and see what you think.

An Australian anthem

David Ward has written a patriotic Australian anthem called Land of my Heart. Here is one of the verses:
God of the nations, our shield and our light,
Defend this our homeland, with justice and might;
Let not the tyrant, encroach on our shores,
And gently exhort us, to follow your laws;
Within your arms safely, our nation enfold;
Through light and through darkness, your people uphold