why liberalism failed

by Peter Deneen

If I was to give the book a subtitle, it would a christian lament. But I go ahead of myself.

As with most writers, Deneen assumes that his readers know what liberalism is and therefore doesn’t bother to define it. But this is remedied, slightly, I think, when he says liberalism, as an ideology, was premised on

the limitation of government and the liberation of the individual from arbitrary political control.

which he notes and I would agree, that in many places, this promise is anything but a mirage. The people have very little control of the political processes and their contribution remains limited to voting and submitting tax returns without so much being able to influence the policies of the government.

On education, he writes that liberalism is killing liberal arts education. That in most universities, the focus is mainly STEM. Here, I will let him speak

[..]The emphasis on the great texts—which were great not only or even because they were old but because they contained hard-won lessons on how humans learn to be free, especially free from the tyranny of their insatiable desires—has been jettisoned in favor of what was once considered “servile education,” an education concerned exclusively with money making and a life of work, and hence reserved for those who did not enjoy the title of “citizen.”

What these great texts, of course we are not told.

Elsewhere, he writes,

Claiming to liberate the individual from embedded cultures, traditions, places, and relationships, liberalism has homogenized the world in its image—ironically, often fueled by claims of “multiculturalism” or, today, “diversity.”

and one would ask is his intention be that culture remains static, not changing not adopting to changes in the accumulated knowledge of the race? The claim, and the reason for my subtitle, is that for Deneen, the world has moved away from a Christian ideal and become godless. He seems deeply saddened by the separation of state and church and especially in American schools. Liberalism has made it possible to have abortion, divorce and these, to Deneen are not any signs of progress.

He writes that in a liberalized world

personal relationships became dominated by considerations of individual choice based on the calculation of individual self-interest, and without broader consideration of the impact of one’s choices upon the community, one’s obligations to the created order, and ultimately to God.

In a sense, for Deneen, personal choice should be subservient to other considerations, such as what god, the Christian one, wants, who your village elder thinks is the right partner for you and all. It was love at first sight must remain only in the domain of poetry. Maybe, marriage should be based on property considerations.

I disagree with him when he tries to argue that we are without gods not because of the absence of evidence supporting any deities, but because of liberalism. His insistence that the world should be more christian ignores the colourful, I mean, bloody christian heritage.

Where we almost agree, as I wrote in a recent post, is the damage monoculture and excessive use of fertilizers among other things is causing to the soil and leading to starvation in many places, especially in the global south.

Deneen seems to me to be enamored by the work of Wendell Berry who he refers to many times in this particular work. In one place, referring to Berry’s work, he writes

Berry insists that they are justified in maintaining internally derived standards of decency in order to foster and maintain a desired moral ecology. He explicitly defends the communal prerogative to demand that certain books be removed from the educational curriculum and to insist on the introduction of the Bible into the classroom as “the word of God.” He even reflects that “the future of community life in this country may depend on private schools and home schooling.”

In my view, while there could be some merit in this particular work, it seems to me, largely a lament about a Christianity that no longer has control in the public sphere on human affairs. Though I also think he writes mainly for an American audience and as such to a person so removed from that setting, some of what he writes has no rhyme.

I wouldn’t consider it a must read. I think it fails to deliver on its promise; to tell us why liberalism has failed. In another place, it can be used a sermon.

 

 

Advertisements

Gertrude

Is a book all of you should read just to be entertained, to be moved to tears or just to pass time.

But I don’t know whether Hesse could have just title it Muoth. What does it matter what the title of a book is anyway. It is a lovely book about love, life, betrayal, death, music, passion, family, youth and old age. It is also beautifully told.

In a conversation between our narrator (Kuhn) and his friend Muoth, on wisdom, the latter says

“As far as I am concerned, I don’t care for accuracy. I believe that wisdom comes to naught. There are only two laws of wisdom. Everything between them is mere babble.”

and when asked to explain his meaning, he says

Well, either the world is wicked and worthless, as the Buddhists and Christians say. Then one must chastise oneself and renounce everything. One could become quite happy in this belief, I think. Ascetics do not have as hard a life as is believed. But if the world and life is good and right, then one must take his part in it—and afterwards, die quietly, for then he is ready.

and when asked by his friend which he chose, his response  was

That is a question you must never ask anyone. Most people believe both, depending on what the weather is, and how they feel, and whether they have money in their pockets. And those who believe, do not always act accordingly. It is that way with me. I believe even as Buddha, that life is worth nothing. But I live according to my senses, and as if pleasing them were the primary thing. If it were only more satisfying!

My friends, I don’t know about you, but I find this quite sublime.

I implore you to get yourself a copy and be reading. You will thank me for it.

Books and more books

I recently read To Kill a Mockingbird. It talks of racist Alabama where a man is found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit, against common sense and also about a white man who is determined to do the right thing even if it costs him his reputation.

And of Scout and Jem and their neighbours and friends and of the Ewells; poor, dirty and morally bankrupt. Aunt Alex, those nosy aunts you are better off without.

And Atticus, the lawyer, father and friend of his children. He is adorable. He is firm. And he is principled.

If you haven’t read this book and you have time to spare, you should add it to your list.

House of Death by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

It is a story about prison life in Siberia. If you have bee to prison, I need not tell you how prison life is. If you haven’t been to prison, you may want to hear it from Alexander, that is, if you don’t have friends in prison 🙂

Dostoyevsky writes, about the nature of punishment, that

if it were desired to reduce a man to nothing- to punish him atrociously, to crush him in such a manner that the most hardened murderer would tremble before such a punishment, and take fright beforehand- it would be necessary to give to his a work a character of complete uselessness, even to absurdity.

It should be noted, he thinks work, as long as it has an aim, is tolerable. This is similar to the argument by Nietzsche among others, that work is expiation and that without it, life becomes intolerable.

He writes

No man lives, can live, without having some object in view and making efforts to attain that object.

He was definitely opposed to corporal punishment. About this he writes

the right granted to a man to inflict corporal punishment on his fellow-men is one of the plague-spots of our society. It is the means of annihilating all civic spirit.

And writing about reality, he says

Reality is a thing of infinite diversity and defies the most ingenious deductions and definition of abstract thought, nay, abhors the clear and precise classifications we so delight in.

And talking about men and their hearts,

you’ll never know what’s at the bottom of the man’s mind or heart

and finally, when some convicts who attempted t escape were rearrested and brought back to the convict prison, he wrote

success is everything in this world.

This last statement says a lot about humans.

The Damned

A novel by Algernon Blackwood in which tells the story of a haunted house.

Towards the end, there is an interesting dialogue on beliefs and thinking. He writes

“What is the world,” she told me, “but thinking and feeling? An individual’s world is entirely what that individual thinks and believes –interpretation. There is no other. And unless he really thinks and really believes, he has no permanent world at all. I grant that few people think, and still fewer believe, and that most take ready-made suits and make them do. Only the strong make their own things; the lesser fry, Mabel among them, are merely swept up into what has been manufactured for them. They get along somehow.

Bill then says

None of us have Truth, my dear Frances

to which she responds

“Precisely,” she answered, “but most of us have beliefs. And what one believes and thinks affects the world at large. Consider the legacy of hatred and cruelty involved in the doctrines men have built into their creeds where the sine qua non of salvation is absolute acceptance of one particular set of views or else perishing everlastingly–for only by repudiating history can they disavow it–

Frances says

“Trying to get out of it,” she admitted, “perhaps they are, but damnation of unbelievers–of most of the world, that is–is their rather favorite idea if you talk with them.”

If the whole book was just these few paragraphs, I would have loved it just as much.

book reviews and other stories

I just finished reading two interesting books.

Micheal Martins, Atheism a Philosophical Justification which is a good book in many respects. In it he looks at the common arguments for the existence of god and how they fail. He looks also at the problem of evil and the responses that have been proposed by theists and find them inadequate. In his conclusion he says belief in god, given the evidence, is irrational and I agree with him.

The next book is by Sophocles, The Oedipus Rex where Oedipus is guilty of killing his father and siring children with his mother. Though such a story is abhorrent to most of us, I think Oedipus is guilty of a single offence, that of manslaughter. I don’t see how he could have know Laius was his father.

Creon who takes over after him is a mean man and suffers at the end for his unreasonableness. I have no sympathy for him.

The pope has put the Catholics in a difficult spot with his latest pronouncements about animals going to heaven. One must ask of the theologians, given that one of the defenses for the problem of evil is that this is a soul making place, in what way are the souls of animals made? They should also tell us how and when they get souls. Now is the time to ask the Katlicks to tell us how many angels can dance on top of a pin.

Portnoy’s Complaint

By Philip Roth is such an interesting book.

Alexander Portnoy has gone to see a shrink to whom he narrates the story of his life, how he jerks off several times a day in his socks, in the washrooms and anywhere he thinks he is not being seen.

He tells of his affair with Mary Jane Reed aka The Monkey, of their sexcapades in different European towns and finally his visit to Israel where he his dick fails to rise to the occasion twice.

Alex is godless and one occasion he says about the Protestants

Oh, this father! this kindly, anxious,uncomprehending, constipated father! Doomed to be obstructed by this Holy Protestant Empire! The self confidence and the cunning, the imperiousness and the contacts, all that enabled the blond and blue-eyed of his generation to lead, to inspire, to command, if need be to oppress- he could not summon a hundredth part of it. How could he oppress?- he was the oppressed. How could he wield power?- he was the powerless. How could he enjoy triumph, when he so despised the triumphant-and probably the very idea. They worship a Jew, do you know that, Alex? Their whole big-deal religion is based on worshiping someone who was an established Jew at that time. Now how do you like that for stupidity? How do you like that for pulling the wool over the eyes of the public? Jesus Christ, who they go around telling everybody was God, was actually a Jew! And this fact, that absolutely kills me when I have to think about it, nobody else pays any attention to. That he was a Jew, like you and me, and that they took a Jew and turned him into some kind of God after he is already dead, and then-and this is what can make you absolutely crazy-then the dirty bastards turn around afterwards, and who is the first one on their list to persecute? who haven’t they left their hands off of to murder and to hate for two thousand years? The Jews! who gave them their beloved Jesus to begin with! I assure you, Alex, you are never going to hear such a mishegoss of mixed-up crap and disgusting nonsense as the Christian religion in your entire life. And that’s what these big shots, so-called, believe!

and in another place he says about Christians and Jews

Tacked above the Girardi sink is a picture of Jesus Christ floating up to Heaven in a pink nightgown. How disgusting can human beings be! The Jews I despise for their narrow-mindedness, their self-righteousness, the incredibly bizarre sense that these cave men who are my parents and relatives have somehow gotten of their superiority- but when it comes to tawdriness and cheapness, to beliefs that would shame even a gorilla, you simply cannot top the goyim. What kind of base and brainless schmucks are these people to worship somebody who, number one, never existed, and number two, if he did, looking as he does in that picture, was without a doubt The Pansy of Palestine. In a pageboy haircut, with a Palmolive complexion- and wearing a gown that I realize today must have come from Fredericks of Hollywood! Enough of God and the rest of that garbage! Down with religion and human groveling! Up with socialism and the dignity of man!

I loved this book!

Book reviews

You wake up one morning to find you have metamorphosed to a giant insect creature. You still think you can talk and be heard but it all seems the sounds you are making are far from human sounds. You are at this time the sole bread winner of your family. You have rented an apartment for your family where your mother, father and sister live. You have an arsehole for an employer. In the company policy, an employee can’t be sick, so calling in sick is out of the question for you. The chief clerk from work comes home to check why you are not at work. You struggle tom open the door, all this time, learning insect ways of doing things. Pause for a moment. Imagine the shock that greets everyone when you the door.

Your family allows you to live in your room. You are fed on a magazine. At first they attempt to keep your room clean. There is just so much you can do for an animal[monster] even if it is family. They make your room a dumping site. You no longer have enough room to move around. You get sick and weak for they also stopped feeding you. A time comes when the family decides it is enough. They must get rid of you. While they discuss how this can be achieved, you do them the favour of dying. I don’t know how your remains were disposed. We are not told.

The above is the story of Gregor, a travelling salesman as told us by Kafka in his novel Metamorphosis. I don’t know how it could be like to find onself in such a scenario. Dying, to me, in whichever way possible, would be the only consideration.

A lot has been said about the Jew, who was born of a virgin, preached, performed miracles, was killed, resurrected, stayed around a while then ascended to the clouds, from whence he has never dared to live. All rational people who have considered this story, have concluded that it was written at age and to a people that were barbarians, superstitious and credulous. No rational person who considers the supposed history and its authors can go on believing that it is the work inspired or coauthored by an all wise creator of the universe.

If you have just one book- rather 4 books and letters to examine- you realize there is just so much you can gather and unless you are a person of faith, you soon come to the conclusion that this story wasn’t meant to be believed by rational people. You must ask, how can people still believe this?

In Ecce Homo, d’Holdbach presents in very short and easy to read chapters what problems face the gospel narratives. They face a credibility issue, for they contradict each other on many salient issues. They are faced with a bigger problem of non confirmation by other non interested sources among others. Internally, is even a bigger problem. For instance, our hero, in situations where he could have answered questions directly and put to rest several questions either takes the 5th or evades the question. When asked by Pilate what is truth, we get no answer. When asked if he is the messiah, he doesn’t answer. Whenever he claimed to heal any one, he forbade them to say who he was.

His main trade was exorcism and later on living on the labour of others. The ecclesiastical leaders have learnt this trade and every where the church holds sway, the people live under a tyrant temporal and spiritual masters.

For those who have spent time reading the contemporary criticism of the story of Jesus will not find anything new in this book, but it is great to know questions that were asked by Celsus through to d’Holdbach and now, have still been unanswered.