Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lawrence Auster

Sadly news has arrived of the passing on of Lawrence Auster. Laura Wood has written a fine tribute to him at her site. I can't write as personal a recollection of him as she has, as I never met Lawrence and only corresponded briefly.

I do however want to express my admiration for Lawrence Auster and my gratitude for what he achieved. He began his work at View from the Right in 2002 at a time when there were so few of us. I remember a comment he made to me very early on expressing his astonishment at just how isolated we were.

Over the years the readership of VFR grew until it became the flagship journal of traditional conservative thought. By 2009 VFR was getting almost a million page views per month, making it possibly the most read traditionalist publication in history.

What attracted readers to his site? I read VFR daily and was rarely disappointed because in one of the posts there would usually be a moment of creative insight. Perhaps it would be a matter of drawing together different strands of thought; perhaps a matter of political clarity in which something once vaguely perceived would find clear expression; or perhaps it would be an identification of some key aspect of an argument or belief.

At VFR you had the sense of traditionalism developing intellectually. This not only gave traditionalism an early sense of momentum but it also drew in an intelligent audience, a critical gain for a fledgling movement.

What allowed Lawrence Auster to sustain such creative insight over so many years? I don't think it was just a matter of talent. Having read Lawrence Auster's writing for so long, I believe that his output was sustained by a love of, and identification with, both the American and the larger Western traditions and, recognising the danger these traditions were in, a desire to understand the reasons for the decline. It was a serious endeavour to get to the truth of what was happening; a pursuit of knowledge in the service of the traditions he identified with.

Although realistic in his assessment of the political situation, he was never defeatist.

Lawrence Auster's passing is a great loss to us. My hope is that the movement he did so much to establish will continue to gain ground so that he will be remembered with gratitude by future generations of traditionalists.

(Please note: I am enabling comment moderation for a period of time.)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Clementine Ford: the feminist goal is autonomy not choice

Clementine Ford is an Australian feminist. She is someone who believes that the overriding goal in life is individual autonomy. She has written, for example, that it is dangerous for women to seek a happy family life as a life goal. Why? For this reason:
it's dangerous to view it [family] as a life goal, as an act that will secure happiness at the expense of the pursuits that will secure freedom, independence and autonomy.
She wants women to go for freedom, independence and autonomy as life goals; if marriage and family are to happen then they should be arranged around women, rather than being seen as an aim or purpose in life.

But this sets up a paradox. If you believe that autonomy is the overriding aim, then this suggests that individuals should be able to choose as they will. So what happens if a woman chooses something that limits her autonomy, because she thinks there are more important things in life? If you say she shouldn't make that choice you are restricting her autonomous freedom to choose. But if you are happy to let her choose something other than autonomy, you are allowing women's autonomy to be compromised.

So what are feminists to do? I'm going to give Clementine Ford's response. In a column on "myths about women" her second myth is:
Women choosing things - anything - is a feminist act and can't be criticised.

She goes on to explain as follows:
But wait a gotdurn minute, I hear you cry! Wouldn’t being a stay-at-home be her choice? And isn’t choice what you bra-burning feminazis are all about?

A gold star to the chap in front! Yes, choice is very important. It is, in fact, vital when it comes to things like child-rearing, abortion, sex, work, life, the universe and everything in between. But ‘choice’ and the ability to exercise it in and of itself is not a feminist act; rather, it’s the result of demanding women be entitled to autonomy the same way men are. More importantly, defending women’s right to choose whatever they like doesn’t mean other women have a duty to agree with those choices or even respect them.
Her answer is that the goal is not so much choice as autonomy. So if women choose something other than autonomy, those choices should be criticised.

But that doesn't really solve the paradox. The only way to solve the paradox is either for feminists to get society to a point at which no woman chooses "incorrectly" or else to admit that autonomy is not always and everywhere the overriding aim in life.

(Note too the assumption in the sentence I bolded that men have an autonomy that women don't have. This, presumably, is what the average feminist believes - it would be interesting to let them live the life of an average man for a period of time to disabuse them of the notion.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sydney meeting - guest speaker announced

The next meeting of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum is scheduled for April 8th. The guest speaker has been announced: he is arguably the best member of the Australian parliament, Senator Cory Bernardi.

It's a great chance to hear things from an insider to the parliamentary process. And I'd also encourage Sydney readers to attend to help maintain the current momentum of the traditionalist movement. We're starting to organise on the ground now in a number of countries (I noticed for instance that the Traditional Britain Group is launching a London branch on 27th April.)

You can get details on how to attend by clicking the link I've placed on the sidebar.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Could a traditionalist society compete with a liberal one?

Jim Kalb describes the strength of liberalism as "the technological method of defining what is wanted and rationally organising resources to achieve it". By applying this method through modern bureaucracy and industrial organisation, liberal societies have been able to outcompete others.

It's a good point. Liberalism is destructive of many things, but economically it has (thus far) created a wide array of consumer choice, with Western shopping malls luring many from other countries.

In what ways could a traditionalist society compete with what liberalism offers? I'll start the ball rolling with the following:

1. A traditionalist community could attract those for whom materialism or hedonism were insufficient.

2. A traditionalist community would not be as unnaturally divided as a liberal one. The emphasis would be on complementary relationships between men and women rather than competing ones. There would no longer be a focus on whites as an oppressor class; nor would there be an aim of dissolving the majority group.

3. A traditionalist community would foster a sense of meaning in everyday endeavours, for instance, by connecting our identity as men and women to fatherhood and motherhood roles and above this to a value-bearing masculine and feminine essence.

4. A traditionalist community could attract the "lions" - those attracted to higher forms of character and culture. It's true that liberalism tries to satisfy this in its appeals to justice, equality and freedom. But it does so by asking the majority to turn against itself and to dissolve itself - so there is an element of self-abasement in the pursuit of liberal ideals. And when it comes to character and culture liberalism tends to reject the idea of inherent standards; instead, the moral standard is one of not discriminating between different lifestyle choices (tolerance, respect, diversity etc.). Can a "lion" be satisfied with the ultimate standard of merely tolerating or respecting rather than asserting higher standards?

5. A traditionalist community would be more concerned than a liberal one with timely family formation. That might attract some of those disillusioned with the periodic disruptions to family formation that take place in liberal societies.

6. A traditionalist community could appeal to those seeking a stable communal identity, within which they could hope to transmit their culture and larger ethnic tradition to future generations.

And what about the material standard of living? If a traditionalist community were to fall too far behind, it might well fail to attract or to keep considerable numbers of people. But there are reasons to believe that a traditionalist community could find at least some advantages when it comes to living standards.

7. In Australia, at least, the cost of housing and education is very high. It's difficult for many young people to afford to buy a home. It's possible to imagine ways to outcompete liberalism in such areas.

8. Hours of work are tending to rise. Sometimes, at least, these extra hours are unnecessary - there could be an effort to rein in hours at work.

9. The male wage has stagnated in real terms for 30 years now. In some Western countries, blue collar male workers have been hit particularly hard. Liberalism is not offering a constantly rising standard of living for everyone.

10. Many liberal states are facing a debt crisis. The limits of the welfare state seem to have been reached. Again, it cannot be assumed that the liberal state will be able to afford a constant rise in the value of benefits.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

More evidence that the elites are post-national

David Goodhart has written a post for the Daily Mail titled "Why we on the left made an epic mistake on immigration".

One of the most interesting bits of information in the post is this:
There has been a huge gap between our ruling elite’s views and those of ordinary people on the street. This was brought home to me when dining at an Oxford college and the eminent person next to me, a very senior civil servant, said: ‘When I was at the Treasury, I argued for the most open door possible to immigration [because] I saw it as my job to maximise global welfare not national welfare.’

I was even more surprised when the notion was endorsed by another guest, one of the most powerful television executives in the country. He, too, felt global welfare was paramount and that he had a greater obligation to someone in Burundi than to someone in Birmingham.
Goodhart has written about this before, in an article for Prospect:
A few years ago I was at a 60th birthday party for a well-known Labour MP. Many of the leading thinkers of the British centre-left were there and at one point the conversation turned to the infamous Gordon Brown slogan “British jobs for British workers,” from a speech he had given a few days before at the Labour conference.

The people around me entered a bidding war to express their outrage at Brown’s slogan which was finally triumphantly closed by one who declared, to general approval, that it was “racism, pure and simple.”

I remember thinking afterwards how odd the conversation would have sounded to most other people in this country. Gordon Brown’s phrase may have been clumsy and cynical but he didn’t actually say British jobs for white British workers.

In most other places in the world today, and indeed probably in Britain itself until about 25 years ago, such a statement about a job preference for national citizens would have seemed so banal as to be hardly worth uttering. Now the language of liberal universalism has ruled it beyond the pale.

My fellow partygoers were all too representative of a part of liberal, educated Britain. Shami Chakrabarti, of the human rights group Liberty, has argued: “In the modern world of transnational and multinational power we must decide if we are all ‘people’ or all ‘foreigners’ now.”

Oliver Kamm, the centrist commentator, said to me recently that it was morally wrong to discriminate on grounds of nationality, ruling out the “fellow citizen favouritism” that most people think that the modern nation state is based on.

And according to George Monbiot, a leading figure of the liberal left, “Internationalism… tells us that someone living in Kinshasa is of no less worth than someone living in Kensington… Patriotism, if it means anything, tells us we should favour the interests of British people [before the Congolese]. How do you reconcile this choice with liberalism? How… do you distinguish it from racism?”

It is not only people on the left who think like this. On a recent BBC Radio 4 Moral Maze programme about development aid, the former Tory cabinet minister and born-again liberal Michael Portillo had this to say: “It is quite old fashioned to think about national borders, and rather nationalistic to say we must help people who are only moderately poor because they happen to be in the UK rather than helping people who are desperately poor because they happen to be a long way away.”

All of the above are, in the formulation of a group of North American cultural psychologists, WEIRD—they are from a sub-culture that is Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic. They are, as we have seen, universalists, suspicious of strong national loyalties. They also tend to be individualists committed to autonomy and self-realisation. Balancing that they are usually deeply concerned with social justice and unfairness and also suspicious of appeals to religion or to human nature to justify any departure from equal treatment—differences between men and women, for example, are regarded as cultural not biological.
I'll write more about David Goodhart in a future post. The point I'll stick to for now is that traditionalist predictions about a civic nationalism are already coming true.

Liberals didn't like a traditional nationalism, based on ties of shared ethnicity, because ethnicity is a predetermined quality that we can't autonomously choose for ourselves. So liberals opted instead for civic nationalism, in which national solidarity is based on citizenship and a shared commitment to liberal political institutions and values.

But even a civic nationalism still discriminates between people based on something that we are usually born into (citizenship), so it will still fail the test for the more rigorous kind of liberals.

For that reason, the liberal elite is moving increasingly to a post-national position - one in which they think it is wrong to discriminate in favour of people who are part of your own nation. You are no longer supposed to favour fellow citizens, let alone fellow members of your own ethny.

As Goodhart noted in his Prospect piece, this attitude is emerging on the right as well as the left. There's an election later this year in Australia and so the PM, Julia Gillard, has been trying to win working class support by promising a crackdown on the rorting of the 457 temporary visa system. The message is that qualified Australians should get first go at Australian jobs rather than overseas workers.

That was too much for some on the right. Tony Abbott criticised Gillard for engaging in a "birthplace war" whilst columnist Andrew Bolt wrote that it showed that Labor was the party of "xenophobia" and that it was an example of "moral failings".

The current drift, even on the mainstream right, is toward a post-national mentality, one in which we are not supposed to favour members of our nation.

I don't know how enduring this shift will be: can societies really continue to function well when communal loyalty is considered immoral or outdated? Can a national state prosper when the people running it no longer believe in national loyalties of any kind?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cameron government insults stay at home mothers

More evidence of just how far away the Cameron government in the UK is from a genuine conservatism.

The latest government scheme aims to help families - but families with a stay at home mother will miss out.

Single parent families or dual income families will get vouchers to subsidise the cost of child care. A dual income family earning up to $437,000 (AUD) will qualify for up to $1750 per child, whereas much poorer single income families will get nothing.

And how did a government spokesman justify this? With this:
Asked whether the Prime Minister was “concerned” that the vouchers scheme was penalising stay-at-home mothers, his official spokesman simply said the measures were “very important as part of supporting those who want to work hard and to get on”. When asked if Mr Cameron believed that stay-at-home parents were less in need of state help than working parents, the spokesman would only say that the Prime Minister wanted to support “aspiration”.

In comments that will anger many mothers, the spokesman added: “The announcement is very specifically focusing on helping those who want to work hard and face the very high child care costs.”

The Prime Minister stressed that the Coalition wants to direct its help at parents “who want to go out to work”.
Well, good-bye to the value of women staying home to look after their children. It seems that is not "aspirational" enough for Mr Cameron, who prefers women who want to "get on".

I've discussed in recent posts at this site the liberal assumption that what matters in life is a professional career. It just seems to be assumed by liberals like Cameron that this is the ultimate end or purpose of human existence.

It's an attitude that makes market values dominant. It's also an impractical attitude as most people in society cannot have the kind of creative or high earning professional career that marks what Cameron would define as a successful and completed life.

It even has economic drawbacks. Previous generations of men were raised to be hard-working in part because motherhood was esteemed and a man's labours had the value of creating a space for motherhood and home life to be sustained.

Take away an esteem for motherhood and you undermine some of men's motivation to work beyond the need to provide a minimally comfortable life for themselves alone.

Urban flair

Here's something a bit different. There's a Melbourne blogger called Marianne who runs a site filled with attractive pictures of inner suburban Melbourne, interiors, clothes, food and herself.

It's not at all a political blog and Esme seems to be an indie type who is interested in vintage style - so I'm in no way connecting her politically to this site.

But I like her sense of style and her feeling for the beauty of the everyday. I still don't think I've recovered from the grungier styles of the 90s, so I appreciate the more refined aesthetic sense and the happy femininity on display at Esme's site.

A sample of what's on offer (click to enlarge):

Monday, March 18, 2013

A new blog: Upon Hope

It's always pleasing to be able to announce a new traditionalist blog. The latest is called Upon Hope and is being run by a Melbourne traditionalist, Mark Moncrieff.

I wish Mark every success with his new website and I encourage readers to drop by and check it out and to add it to their links.

Fourth generation socialist families!

Owen Jones is a young left-wing writer from the UK. He describes himself as a fourth generation socialist. His grandfather was a member of the Communist Party and his parents were Trotskyists.

So what happens when you grow up in such a socialist family? Well, for one thing you don't call your mum "mum":

That tweet was made in the context of Owen Jones describing his mother's commitment to feminism.

It's that idea again that we should be self-defining and therefore we shouldn't be defined by a traditional or inherited or natural role like that of mother. Therefore, Owen is not allowed to call his mother "mum".

It's a logical application of the theory, but it suggests that the theory itself is misguided and that self-definition is not always and everywhere the principle to be followed.

Hat tip: David Thompson

Richmond Bridge

Just because I like it: a picture of Richmond Bridge in Tasmania.

It's the oldest bridge still in use in Australia, being completed in 1825.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A feminist explains her problems with family

An Australian research agency has found that 42% of Australian women rate family as their highest life goal, well in front of security, prosperity or an important life.

The result is disconcerting to feminist Clementine Ford. But why?

The gist of her answer is that there's nothing wrong with wanting a family, but it's something that should be created around you rather than something you pursue as a life goal. If it's a life goal then it's something that defines you as a person and robs you of autonomy. Men, according to Clementine Ford, don't have family as a life goal and are therefore free to live exciting, important and prosperous lives.

In her own words:
There's nothing wrong with desiring family or considering the formation of it as integral to your life happiness. Certainly, wanting nothing more than to have children and a familial environment in which to raise them is as admirable a pursuit as any other.

But firstly, 'family' is generally considered to be something that happens around men rather than a life goal that they pursue. Men are enabled by social values to pursue the 'important' lives, the exciting lives, the prosperous lives women are evidently eschewing, because it's understood that for men these choices aren't incompatible with having a family.
This is such a curious belief system. It rests in part on a misguided envy of the lives of men, who are perceived to be free to live important, exciting and prosperous lives (it would be like a man seeing a group of happy, beautiful young women and thinking enviously that they had it made - hopefully, good sense would kick in and banish the thought, but Clementine seems to be sticking with her moment of envy. Note too that even though she gets to have a relatively cushy job as a freelance writer, she still believes that the average labouring man gets a free pass compared to her.)

Nor does Clementine understand how important family is to most men. Getting married and having children is a life goal for most men, one that men do self-consciously pursue.

Clementine has also bought into liberal autonomy theory: the idea that we should not be defined by predetermined factors like biology or custom (and therefore motherhood), but by things we choose for ouselves (such as career). She complains:
Children, and the act of having them, is still seen as something that elevates women into personhood.

Their childless lives are precursors to their real purpose - having babies, and discovering what it is Their Bodies Were Meant To Do...mothers also...suffer the indignity of being assumed to have lost an essential part of their autonomous identities as women...

By all means, women should make family central to their lives if that's their choice. But it's dangerous to view it as a life goal, as an act that will secure happiness at the expense of the pursuits that will secure freedom, independence and autonomy.
Look how clearly she states it: a woman's life goal must be freedom, independence and autonomy. And that's not something you get from family.

She has so much bought into the idea of individual autonomy that she refuses to recognise the shared purposes of husbands and wives. And so you once again get curious ideas like the following:
But secondly, the cost of raising children is still significantly high enough for women that encouraging them to view it as a goal - something they pursue and achieve, rather than something created and managed around them - has potentially damaging consequences. Unfortunately for women, the financial burden of caring for children still falls overwhelmingly to them.

Leaving aside the gender pay gap that affects most women working in salaried positions, their prospects for retirement are bleak. Women's superannuation, already estimated to be about half that at retirement age as men's, is damaged further by being out of the workforce for long periods of time.
Clementine here repeats her belief that family should be something "created and managed" around women, rather than something they set out to achieve. She also believes that a married woman will be harmed compared to men by the loss of superannuation. But how? Does she think that the husband reserves his superannuation for himself only, leaving the wife to fund herself out of her own?

Clementine Ford seems to be trying to find a way to give women permission to have a family, whilst keeping freedom, independence and autonomy as their life goal. But if you were sincere about the pursuit of freedom, independence and autonomy then you wouldn't marry, regardless of whether you were a man or a woman. You would stay single.

What Clementine Ford needs to recognise is that not everyone sees autonomy as the sole, overriding good in life. She should not assume that men see it as the overriding good and get the freedom to pursue it. She should recognise too how odd it is, first, to see husbands and wives as not pooling financial resources and, second, to think that family can be "created and managed" around people, rather than being a life goal in itself.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Two fine churches

Here are some pictures of two American churches, one Catholic and the other Presbyterian. It's not hard to pick which is which - the Catholic church is the more ornate. Both churches are beautiful and demonstrate what American culture was capable of.

I'll start with the Catholic church, namely the St Francis de Sales Oratory in St Louis. It is impressive from the outside with a soaring spire:

St Francis de Sales Oratory

Here is the altar:

The other church, the Fourth Presbyterian, is in Chicago. It has a courtyard:

The interior is very fine (the first photo looks best if you click to expand it):

It was not that long ago that such impressive church architecture was being created in America. The St Francis Oratory was completed in 1908; the Fourth Presbyterian in 1914.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The splitting of young women in a liberal society

There's an article in The Atlantic (hat tip: Laura Wood) which supports an argument I've often made at this site.

It's by a psychotherapist and sociologist, Leslie Bell, who writes on the issue of young women and relationships. What she has found is that upper middle-class women in their 20s are conflicted about having relationships with men.

On the one hand, these young women have been brought up to believe that they should be "liberated" in the liberal sense to lead autonomous, independent, self-reliant lives. On the other hand, they feel a feminine desire to have a relationship with a man in which they show vulnerability and need.

The two aims conflict and therefore many upper middle-class women in their 20s feel guilty or anxious about their desire for a relationship. They feel split between what they feel they should want as liberated women and what they desire in their personal lives. They resolve this conundrum, according to Leslie Bell, by "splitting" the two aspects of their lives and by denigrating romantic relationships.

From the article:
Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth Armstrong, sociologists at University of California, Merced and the University of Michigan studied relationship patterns among upper-middle-class female college students, and they discovered that these women believed relational commitments were supposed to take a backseat to self-development...Hamilton and Armstrong found that young women often sought protection from relationships that could "derail their ambition."

Like Hamilton and Armstrong's respondents, many young and aspiring women with whom I spoke felt as though it were counterproductive to their development to prioritize a relationship with a man...

Confused about freedom and desire, young women often split their social and psychological options—independence, strength, safety, control, and career versus connection, vulnerability, need, desire, and relationships—into mutually exclusive possibilities in life. Romantic relationships then often become something to be avoided and denigrated rather than embraced.

It's no wonder that splitting is often young women's preferred method to make sense of the dizzying array of freedoms before them. A group of people trying to be autonomous and successful at work, and to have love and sex lives in which they express their vulnerability, need, and desire, is groundbreaking and historically unprecedented. Splitting may serve to ease their anxiety temporarily, but only until the desire for a relationship becomes impossible to ignore.
I don't see a way out of this for liberals. If autonomy really is the path to liberation, then women are likely to deprioritise relationships with men. And if relationships are downgraded, then women won't seek to develop the qualities that might make relationships successful (they might not even be aware that they need to develop such qualities).

The traditional path is for both men and women to seek to develop from young adulthood onwards the qualities that will help them to marry well and then to be successful and effective husbands and wives and fathers and mothers. Because these qualities are at the heart of who we are as men and women, this is more truly a means to self-development than a more narrow focus on developing career skills.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Nick Clegg calls traditional family "absurd"

Nick Clegg is the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain. The Lib Dems are perceived as a centrist party, standing between Labor and the Conservatives. But I agree with the following comment from "Norm" in the Daily Mail:
As a young man many many years ago I thought the liberals stood between labour and the tories but in actual fact they are more extreme than either. The sooner they are condemned to history the better.
The latest example of this radicalism is a speech given by Nick Clegg to a party conference on the issue of women. Clegg wants women to be "free to realise their potential". But what does this mean? Clegg has decided that people realise their potential by having an upper middle-class profession: by being a lawyer or doctor or journalist or politician.

Therefore, Clegg sees motherhood not positively as part of how women fulfil themselves, but negatively as a potential hindrance to a career in the higher professions.

And so Clegg complains that at the moment it is mostly women rather than men who take a year of maternity leave to be with their children. Taking a year to be with her newborn, complains Clegg, means a disruption to a woman's career:
It’s heartbreaking to watch women who feel forced to lower their ambitions for themselves. And it’s heartbreaking to see fathers missing out on being with their children.

As a father, I find the outdated assumption that men should go out and work and women should stay at home and look after the children frankly absurd.
So Clegg has brought himself to believe that the traditional pattern of family life, in which a mother looks after her children whilst the father works to provide, is "absurd".

If Clegg is really so interested in the "absurd" perhaps he should consider the following:

i) It is absurd to assume that people realise their potential by being a lawyer or a politician or one of the other higher professions. In part, that's because 95% of the population will never be those things. So 95% of the population is excluded from ever realising their potential under Clegg's definition.

That Clegg's definition is absurd is brought out in the part of his speech where he talked about a visit he and his wife made to a girls' school in Ethiopia:
And despite the poverty, despite the conditions, the young girls we met there dreamed big. Every single one of them wanted to be an engineer, or a doctor, or a lawyer. One even said she wanted to be Prime Minister. I said I had no doubt she could achieve it.

To think that girls like those Lynne and I met in Ethiopia might have their ambitions crushed just because they are girls – that they might die younger and live their lives in poverty and servitude – is devastating.
So even Ethiopian girls living in poverty are being brought up to believe that the realisation of their lives consists in becoming engineers or doctors or lawyers.

ii) If it really is the case that people realise their potential by becoming doctors or lawyers then why claim it is heartbreaking for men to miss out on being with their children?

We're being asked to cheer on the idea of women not taking any time off work to be with their children, but at the same time to think it heartbreaking if men don't take time off work to be with their children.

In fact, if Clegg is right about how people realise themselves, then nobody should look after children. Even if we give the job to childcare workers, that is a lower rather than an upper profession. So the people who do that job never get to realise who they are. Isn't that then a fundamental inequality in society?

iii) Clegg's view is therefore absurdly short-sighted. If we realise ourselves through a higher professional career, and if being a parent is an obstruction to be avoided, then people will no longer be as committed to raising the next generation.

It is already the case that the number of women reaching the age of 45 and remaining childless has doubled from about 10% to 20%.

I doubt, though, if Clegg will be worried about the effect of his beliefs on the future prospects of his nation. After all, he has openly rejected the idea of a national good, or for that matter any kind of common good. Clegg likes the idea of an atomised society as he believes it allows for a more self-defining life.

Successful Sydney Trads meeting

I was pleased to read that the Sydney Trads had their second meeting earlier this month. It's another step forward in traditionalists pushing ahead into the next stage of development. I'd like to congratulate the organisers and wish them well in their efforts in 2013.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Tony, don't go there

There's been a stoush between the two major parties in Australia this week over 457 visas. In theory, these visas are meant to allow employers to fly in workers from overseas when there is no-one available to do the job in Australia.

But predictably the system has been rorted:
Evidence of widespread rorting of the controversial program has grown. One company employed more than 400 foreigners and no locals on a building site, and it has been claimed fake businesses have been set up to bring in foreigners who then seek permanent residence.
It's an election year and the left-liberal Labor Party are taking a populist position (and the correct position) that unemployed Australians should have preference in our job market. The Labor Party Immigration Minister, Brendan O'Connor, has said:
It is clear there have been abuses of the 457 visas and qualified Australians are missing out on jobs in a number of fields.

And what of the more right-liberal Liberal Party? They want the rorting to continue and to be expanded. The Victorian Liberal Party, for instance, wants the 457 visa system to be extended to Geelong, a town struggling with 10,000 locally unemployed people.

Even worse was a comment from the federal leader of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott. He accused the Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, of engaging in "the false birthplace war".

I hope that was just an ill-thought, throwaway line. What worries me is this. Western countries once had what might be called an ethnic nationalism. But an ethnic nationalism is something that we are born into - it is predetermined rather than self-determined. It therefore violated the liberal idea that we are made free when we are autonomous and self-defining.

So it was replaced by a civic nationalism, in which a nation was tied together by a common citizenship and a shared commitment to liberal political values. That was a weaker form of national identity and it was always going to struggle to hold ground. Why? Because it still violated the liberal ideal of autonomy as it meant giving preference to people largely on the basis of a predetermined quality, namely where they were born.

As I noted in a recent post, a host of past Labor PMs have come out and rejected even a civic nationalism on the basis that it discriminates against those who aren't Australian citizens and that it discriminates on the "arbitrary" basis of birthplace.

So it's a bit ominous to hear a Liberal leader imply that birthplace shouldn't matter when it comes to jobs, and that those who are not Australian citizens and who were born elsewhere have an equal claim to job vacancies in Australia.

If Abbott means this, then he too has moved not just beyond a deeper ethnic nationalism, but beyond the civic nationalism that was supposed to replace it. It means that we have moved one step closer to a post-national consensus amongst the major parties.

If Australians are to have no more loyalty toward each other than to those who live dispersed throughout the world, then what does it mean anymore to be an Australian? It just becomes a descriptor of where you happen to live, rather than a meaningful description of belonging to a particular people.

And if the ruling elite has no more loyalty to those who are citizens here (let alone to their ethnic kin) than to those who are not citizens and who live elsewhere, then what is the basis of loyalty to the state?

And what is to stop a generation of young Australians from being left behind? If their own government has no particular concern for them, then who will?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The UK's abandoned conservative voters

The Guardian is a left-wing British newspaper. One of its columnists, John Harris, feels sorry for rank-and-file British conservatives. Why? Because they don't have anyone to represent them.

In the recent Eastleigh byelection, a lot of conservatives could no longer stomach voting for the so-called Conservative Party, led by the decidedly non-conservative David Cameron, and opted instead to vote for the UKIP. The rise in the UKIP vote has led some commentators to talk about the disenchantment of many voters with the political elite of all the mainstream parties.

Which prompted the left-winger John Harris to write:
... this is essentially a story about conservatism, with a small and a large "c", and the fact that in England, no mainstream party truly understands or gives convincing voice to it.

...Whether they warrant a big or a small "c", most conservatives want to be led by one of their own – and in any decently functioning democracy, that is surely the least they deserve.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

An inadequate formula for the right?

I haven't read much by Kenneth Minogue so please don't take what follows as a general criticism of his writings. It's a criticism of this particular passage:
My concern with democracy is highly specific. It begins in observing the remarkable fact that, while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them. Most Western governments hate me smoking, or eating the wrong kind of food, or hunting foxes, or drinking too much, and these are merely the surface disapprovals, the ones that provoke legislation or public campaigns. We also borrow too much money for our personal pleasures, and many of us are very bad parents. Ministers of state have been known to instruct us in elementary matters, such as the importance of reading stories to our children. Again, many of us have unsound views about people of other races, cultures, or religions, and the distribution of our friends does not always correspond, as governments think that it ought, to the cultural diversity of our society. We must face up to the grim fact that the rulers we elect are losing patience with us.

No philosopher can contemplate this interesting situation without beginning to reflect on what it can mean. The gap between political realities and their public face is so great that the term “paradox” tends to crop up from sentence to sentence. Our rulers are theoretically “our” representatives, but they are busy turning us into the instruments of the projects they keep dreaming up. The business of governments, one might think, is to supply the framework of law within which we may pursue happiness on our own account. Instead, we are constantly being summoned to reform ourselves. Debt, intemperance, and incompetence in rearing our children are no doubt regrettable, but they are vices, and left alone, they will soon lead to the pain that corrects. Life is a better teacher of virtue than politicians, and most sensible governments in the past left moral faults to the churches. But democratic citizenship in the twenty-first century means receiving a stream of improving “messages” from politicians. Some may forgive these intrusions because they are so well intentioned. Who would defend prejudice, debt, or excessive drinking? The point, however, is that our rulers have no business telling us how to live. They are tiresome enough in their exercise of authority—they are intolerable when they mount the pulpit. Nor should we be in any doubt that nationalizing the moral life is the first step towards totalitarianism.
I don't think that's a place for the right to take a stand. It's true that nearly all of the right, including traditionalists like myself, want a smaller and less intrusive government. So on that point we find agreement.

But Minogue seems to be sailing close to something like a classical liberalism in the sentence that I bolded. It's an image of a society in which the government merely sets a framework of laws within which individuals then pursue happiness as they see fit.

What's wrong with that? I think it's a political orientation that is doomed to failure, for three reasons.

First, we humans are moral creatures. We wish to think that we are not just acting selfishly for our own happiness, but that we are acting rightly and upholding the good. After all, if it were just a case of my own individual happiness I could easily justify adultery, or neglecting my children, or any number of dishonesties.

So there are two problems with the idea that government should stay out of our lives so that we may "pursue happiness on our own account." First, it's likely to lead to a self-serving hedonism (which is unlikely to be entirely corrected by life as a teacher of virtue). Second, and just as importantly, it will fail to connect to the normal and healthy orientation that people have to what is right and good.

The left has been very successful in connecting to this orientation. The left has been superbly talented in taking people on an emotional journey centred on moral ideals of justice, equality and freedom. They have won conscientious people this way, in fact they have even managed to shift the moral imaginations of many serious Christians away from Christianity and toward liberalism.

A successful right-wing politics cannot abandon the field of moral idealism to the left and expect to prosper. We too should be asserting an understanding of justice and of public virtue (such as loyalty or piety or prudence etc). Unless we do this we allow the left to triumph unopposed.

Second, we humans are social creatures. This means that we are strongly influenced by the culture surrounding us and by the institutions of society. Realistically only a minority of people are able to act against the stream of society.

The left understands this and so has made a big push to influence the larger culture of society and to control the leading institutions of society. They've been highly successful in their aims; for instance, the schools and the universities are now probably 90% incubators of a leftist world view.

A successful right needs to be equally determined to hold on wherever it can to institutions and to influence over the culture of a society. If that means tenaciously rebuilding influence at the local level, then so be it. But the idea of just having people acting individually is no match for a left which understands the influence of culture and institutions; again, it leaves the left unopposed in a critical area of politics.

Third, it is misconceived to think of people acting only at an individual level to secure their happiness. Much of what is important to us requires a social setting that has to be defended at a public level. For instance, if we want to form a family successfully, then we need a culture of family life to be defended at a public level. Similarly, if our identity and our sense of belonging depends on the maintenance of a communal tradition, then we need that tradition to be defended at a public level.

It's no use having a view of life which focuses only on the things that people do individually for their own happiness. If you limit yourself to this, then what really have you got left to complain about? In practice, you're likely to be left complaining about the state interfering with your right to gamble, or smoke, or drink, or drive fast. In other words, you'll be left to complain about the existence of a nanny state - but you won't have the political vocabulary to take on the really big issues effectively. You won't be able to challenge the left when it comes to the larger social settings which make a full and complete human life possible.

For all these reasons, an effective right cannot limit itself to the idea of a neutral state maintaining social order whilst individuals go off and do their own thing. It leaves out too much and misunderstands the real driving forces of both the individual and society. It abandons critical areas of politics to the left.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Frank Owen Salisbury

Kidist Paulos Asrat has a post up at her site Reclaiming Beauty which showcases a portrait by Frank Owen Salisbury.

I'd never heard of the artist before so I looked him up. He was born in 1874 in Hertfordshire, England, to a family of modest means (his father was a plumber). He became an apprentice in a stained glass business, showed talent, won a scholarship to art school and rose to become a society painter.

It's surprising that he's not better known now as he painted the portraits of six American presidents, 25 members of the royal family, a pope and many other prominent figures of his time.

Here's a work painted by Salisbury in 1933 titled The Bridal Train:

This is a portrait of a bishop of London, Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, painted in 1918:

I would like to have a better quality version of the image below. It's St George defeating the dragon:

Finally, here's one titled The Fair Lady:

Friday, March 01, 2013

Hesitating at the brink?

It's rare for liberals to recognise the negative consequences of a liberal culture. So I was interested to read an article from The Daily Beast/Newsweek in which the decline of the traditional family is presented as a looming problem (hat tip: Elusive Wapiti).

The gist of the article is that the U.S. is now beginning to follow the pattern in Europe of having below replacement levels of fertility. The authors seem to recognise that liberalism is spawning a postfamilial culture in which the creative classes in the big cities are beginning to choose solo living over a commitment to family.
Amid this shift, the childless and even the partnerless life has gained something of a cultural cachet, with some suggesting they represent not just a legitimate choice but a superior one. It’s a burgeoning movement that’s joined cultural tastemakers, academics, neo-Malthusians, greens, feminists, Democratic politicians, urban planners, and big developers. Unlike families, whose members, after all, are often stuck with one another, University of Santa Barbara psychology professor Bella De Paulo praises singles as enjoying “intentional communities” and being more likely “to think about human connectedness in a way that is far-reaching and less predictable.”

In his provocative 2012 book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, Eric Klinenberg writes that for the hip urban professionals who make up the so-called creative class, living alone represents a “more desirable state,” even “a sign of success and a mark of distinction, a way to gain freedom and experience the anonymity that can make city life so exhilarating.” Certainly, the number of singletons has skyrocketed: more than half of all adults today are single (a group that includes divorcées and widows and widowers), up from about one in five in 1950.
That's hardly surprising. If you buy into liberal ideology, you'll believe that the primary good in life is individual autonomy. And if you want to maximise your autonomy then you won't want to commit to fixed relationships and responsibilities that come with marriage and children; nor will you want to make individual sacrifices to uphold the larger traditions you belong to; nor will you want to follow a "pre-ordained" path of family and children rather than your own unique, self-determining lifestyle.

You can see such thoughts in various comments in the article. For instance, the psychology professor quoted above praises singles as creating "intentional communities" and "less predictable" forms of connection with each other. The implication is that those who marry and have children are just following a predetermined script (and therefore lose status as autonomous beings), in contrast to the deliberate, consciously made relationships made by singles.

Similarly, one of the single women rejected the idea of pregnancy because she didn't want to relinquish "sole ownership of one’s own body." Another one reacted badly to her friends marrying and moving to the suburbs because it seemed too much like a set, pre-ordained life path: “It’s very orderly, like if you put them in different clothes, it could be the 1950s.”

The authors do note that this single woman constituency is a good thing for leftist politics in the sense that it creates a voting bloc for the Democrats. But they worry that if fertility rates fall that the U.S. will be stuck in the same position as the European countries, in having a welfare state saddled with higher costs and a smaller tax base. They also worry that by not having children liberals will be a declining force in the U.S.:
But if singletons are swelling as a voting bloc and interest group now, the demographics of childlessness mean that they’re likely to lose out in the long term...

In the long run, notes Eric Kaufmann, the author of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, high birthrates among such conservative, religious populations as Mormons and evangelical Christians will slant our politics against the secular young, childless voting bloc as well. Even among generally liberal groups like Jews, the most religious are vastly out-birthing their secular counterparts; by some estimates roughly two in five New York Jews are Orthodox—as are three in four of the city’s Jewish children. If these trends continue, and if these children share their parents’ politics—two big ifs, to be sure—even the Democratic stronghold of Gotham will be pulled rightward.

This prospect would pose dangers to our society as a whole, and singletons in particular, including a potential reversion to a more rigidly traditionalist worldview. But perhaps most damaging would be declining markets and a hobbled economy in which governments are forced to tax the shrinking workforce to pay for the soaring retirement and health expenses of an increasingly doddering population

...In the coming decades, success will accrue to those cultures that preserve the family’s place, not as the exclusive social unit but as one that is truly indispensable. It’s a case we need to make as a society, rather than counting on nature to take its course.
I suspect that the real reason why the liberal writers of the article are hesitant to take the leap into a postfamilial culture is the argument I bolded - they understand at some level that such a culture has no future. But what can they do about it? They mostly propose more liberalism as a solution to a problem created by liberalism in the first place. If they were serious about the issue they would have to rethink aspects of liberal ideology and culture. As The Elusive Wapiti puts it:
The problem lays in the attitudes of the millions of men and women who share Ms. Jordan's attitudes. Attitudes that produce billions of perfectly rational self-interested choices subsequent to those attitudes. Try as they may, liberalists cannot deny the effects of dynamiting the family, erasing gender differences, consecrating individual autonomy as the acme of human values, and making children a fashion accessory (that are permitted to enter into this world unmurdered only if they're wanted). As a result, we have a society where "family" and "marriage" are defined so broadly as to be near-meaningless, "men" and "women" are legally interchangeable, sub-replacement fertility, and acting as though "it's all about me" isn't the acme of narcissism but a commonly accepted social norm.