stability or progress

I’ve just been reading one of Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee mysteries. Why is this relevant? I’ll explain in a moment. Van Gulik was a Dutch diplomat who wrote a series of detective novels describing the cases confronting a magistrate in China during the Tang Dynasty (7th century AD).
What’s interesting is that Van Gulik’s knowledge of Chinese history, culture and jurisprudence was profound. And in his stories there is not the faintest hint of the cult of progress. He describes a society that valued stability and order to an extreme degree. This reflects the view that historians have always taken about Imperial China, although western historians have mostly seen this as a weakness. The Chinese developed a very advanced civilisation and then stopped. No further progress was considered to be necessary and in fact further progress would lead to instability and was therefore a bad thing.
While it might be an over-simplistic view of Chinese civilisation there’s undoubtedly a lot of truth in this view of a society committed to preserving what it already had rather than pursuing the phantom of progress. 
Looking at the world today it’s easy to believe that the Chinese had the right idea. This is especially so when you consider the misery and chaos that followed the overthrow of the last Imperial government in the early part of the 20th century.
The cult of progress is always tied up with utopianism. If we just keep progressing then sooner or later we’ll have a perfect society composed of perfect people leading amazingly happy and fulfilling lives. This is the philosophical view that started to emerge in Europe in the 16th century and it has taken a firmer and firmer hold with every year that has passed since then. By the beginning of the 20th century it was the one unchallenged dogma of our civilisation. Imperial China was dominated by Confucian thought and Confucian thought most certainly did not see things in this light. Medieval Europe was dominated by Christianity and medieval Christianity did not see things that way either. 
The point is that it is possible to have a fully functional and quite advanced civilisation based on the cult of stability rather than the cult of progress. 
The cult of progress is, by it very nature, destructive. To build a new society we must first destroy the old one. Everything that has happened has been an inevitable consequence of this. Whenever utopia fails to materialise it just means that more destruction is needed.
Should we abandon the idea of progress altogether? Surely the cult of progress has brought us many benefits? There is a genuine dilemma here. The answer is perhaps that the cult of progress needs to be balanced by an equally strong force advocating stability and order. Perhaps if progress could be slowed and controlled it might not be so socially destructive? It’s possible, but progress has a way of continually getting out of control.
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves exactly what kind of progress is actually useful? Technological progress has on the whole been pretty useful. Social progress on the other hand has brought us to the brink of ruin. We might need to accept the harsh reality that there is no such thing as social progress. We probably should ask ourselves also exactly what kind of scientific and technological progress we need. Do we need ever more advanced weaponry? Do we need faster and faster personal computers? Do we need smarter and smarter smartphones?
One conclusion that logically follows from this is likely to be unpalatable to many people who consider themselves to be right-wing. Taking control of progress would require a very strong government. Almost certainly not a democratic one. Imperial China survived for millennia because mostly it had a strong government. It also survived because those who ran the government, the countless bureaucrats that characterised Chinese government, were educated to believe in stability and order and the tenets of Confucianism. It seems to follow inexorably from this that rigid control of education is necessary for the preservation of civilisation and that dangerous and destructive ideas need to be suppressed. Perhaps that is the price that has to be paid if you want a successful stable culture.

the trouble with paganism

I’ve been reading Dan McCoy’s The Love of Destiny: The Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism which I guess could be described as an exercise in neo-pagan apologetics.

The problem of religion is one that has been exercising my mind for quite some time. I’m fairly clear about the natures of the problem. I don’t think atheism is healthy for society and I don’t think it’s healthy for the individual. What I’m not clear about is the solution to the problem.
It’s a problem that many (possibly even most) people in the dissident right, alt-right or whatever you want to use as an umbrella term for such groups are aware of. The two most popular solutions are a revived Christianity or some form of neo-paganism. It’s the neo-pagan solution I’m concerned with at the moment.
I understand the attraction of the neo-pagan solution. Christianity hasn’t done much of a job of defending our civilisation in the past century or so and neo-paganism has the advantage of offering a distinctively European alternative. Blood and soil and all that.
I have however always had reservations about neo-paganism. This is a short summary of my reservations (and as you’ll see they’re all pretty much related). 
Firstly, any kind of polytheistic religion by its very nature will tend towards fragmentation. There was a time when the whole of Europe was pagan but it was certainly not a golden age of religious unity. At the time that wasn’t a major problem but what we need today is unity.
Secondly, neo-paganism has always been short on doctrine. Certainly very short on anything approaching a unified doctrine. Within incredibly broad limits you can more or less choose your own beliefs. Every man can in effect have his own private religion. The difficulty with that is that it must inevitably lead to the kind of atomisation and sense of alienation which are the very things that make liberalism so deadly. One of the functions of religion is to bring people together, not to divide them.
Thirdly, there’s no standardised neo-pagan morality. Each cult can adopt its own morality and in practice every individual can adopt his or her own moral standards. Obviously that’s a recipe for social chaos.
Fourthly, neo-paganism can very easily become just a vague woolly New Age spirituality. Even worse, it can become a sort of glorified pantheism. And pantheism is itself a sort of glorified atheism.
Fifthly, not only is neo-paganism not conducive to social discipline it’s also not conducive to self-discipline. It’s an open door to every kind of self-indulgence – moral, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.
McCoy is aware of these weaknesses but unfortunately he considers them to be features, not bugs. This is one of the many disturbing things about this book.
McCoy starts out in his introduction by assuring us that he has no animus against the monotheistic religions. We then move on to the first half of the book which is a sustained, hysterical, intellectually incoherent attack on what he considers to be the many evils of the three great monotheistic religions. Interestingly enough for McCoy the three great monotheistic religions are Judaism, Christianity and Science. His main beef with these religions seems to be that they’re anti-Nature and moralistic. For McCoy Nature is all good and morality is all bad. Because we’re all part of Nature, man, and it’s all good because, well, it’s just all good because it is. Morality of course is bad ’cause it’s oppressive, man. This is pretty much the hippie worldview.
The second half of this brief volume is marginally more interesting, giving us a brief rundown on Norse mythology and the Northern European pagan worldview. The problem here is that, to me at least, that worldview sounds impossibly bleak, fatalistic and depressing. Submitting to fate seems to be the essence of it. 
Of course it would be unfair to dismiss neo-paganism out of hand based on this one book. Nonetheless this book does confirm every one of my worst fears on the weaknesses of neo-paganism and the unlikelihood that it is going to be of much use in saving our civilisation. Mind you I suspect that the author would not be bothered by this, since civilisation is oppressive, man.

Hilaire Belloc’s Elizabethan Commentary

I spoke in a recent post about foundational myths. Intriguingly the foundational myth of Protestant England is centred not on Henry VIII but on his daughter. Elizabeth I, or Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, is Protestant England’s Joan of Arc.

Hilaire Belloc’s Elizabethan Commentary, published in 1942 (and issued in the US as Elizabeth, Creature of Circumstance), is an entertaining hatchet job on this myth. Belloc believed, absolutely correctly, that the Reformation was the key event in European history and he retuned to it again and again. As a result some of the ground covered in this book is also covered in his other books on the subject.
Belloc approaches his task with his usual combative zeal and it follows his usual idiosyncratic approach to history. He has no interest in a connected narrative, or in any narrative at all. That does not mean this is social history in the generally understood sense of the term although there are elements of this. When writing about the past Belloc’s main aim is to capture the spirit of the age with which he is dealing and he does so far more successfully than most modern historians.
As in his other books he stresses the importance of the rising power of the moneyed class and the greed of that class. The Reformation saw the seizure of the abbey lands in England and this despoiling of the Church was on a breath-taking scale. As much as a third of the wealth of the country was involved. Had this wealth remained in the hands of the Crown the English Crown could have been the richest in Europe and subsequent disasters like the Civil War would have been averted. England might have remained a monarchy until the present day. Unfortunately the hapless Tudors allowed all of this wealth to slip through their fingers to enrich the already wealthy. More importantly this represented a fatal shift of power from the Crown to the moneyed class.
In some ways the highlights of the book are Belloc’s many digressions. He has some interesting things to say on the nature of monarchy. 
There’s also a fascinating chapter on torture. This was a fairly uncommon practice prior to the 16th century, became extremely common during that century and then fairly quickly disappeared from the English scene. Belloc stresses that the purpose of torture was not punishment but to extract information. It was widely used in the 16th century because there were so many plots and the government therefore had a very strong incentive to extract information from suspects possibly involved in such plots. In other words governments are inclined to use torture when their own power is threatened. The history of the past hundred years would appear to confirm this, with governments being very willing to use extreme methods to protect their own power.
He makes the further point, often overlooked, that to the 16th century mind it was almost unthinkable to execute a man unless he confessed. Without modern forensic science, and (another very intriguing point) without modern legal cross-examination procedures, it was difficult to establish guilt. The most effective way was to torture a man until he confessed. Torture was considered to be morally preferable to running the risk of executing an innocent man. It’s another example of Belloc’s thesis that you can’t hope to understand history unless you accept that the past really is a foreign country and they really do do things differently there.
Belloc makes no apologies for presenting a Catholic view of English history, as a counter-balance to hundreds of years of anti-Catholic propaganda. In this instance there’s also the need to present some kind of alternative to the myth of Elizabeth I as the great queen, a myth that remained unchallenged in England for centuries. It’s a task that he approaches with relish.

Foundational Myths and the Cult of Science

Every society has its Foundational Myths. I’m not talking about myths in the sense of mythology – gods and monsters and superhuman heroes and such things. I’m talking about the quasi-historical myths that define a society’s sense of itself.
For the Greeks it was the Trojan War. For the Romans it was Romulus and Remus and the founding of the city but the Romans elaborated their Foundational Myth by extending Roman history back to the exploits of the Trojan prince Aeneas after the fall of Troy. For French republicans it’s the Revolution. For Americans it’s the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War.
For modern secularists the Foundational Myth is the Rise of Science. Until around the 17th century there was an age of ignorance and superstition then along came Science! and everything was light. Science! ushered in a blessed age of reason and enlightenment.
Foundational Myths can be entirely mythical, or they can be semi-mythical or even mostly historical. The Trojan War might well have happened although the actual events were probably much more small-scale and much more tawdry than the version promoted by the Greek poets.
The Rise of Science is at least partly historical. There has been a great deal of scientific progress in the past 500 years. The benefits are more questionable.
A Foundational Myth should be inspiring. It should give people a sense of cultural identity but more than that it should give a society some sense of purpose or destiny.
Has the Rise of Science done that? In some ways, perhaps. Although it’s worth pointing out that a great deal of human progress in modern times has owed more to practical engineers than to scientists. The engineers who were responsible for providing Europeans cities with sewerage and clean water contributed more to human happiness and prosperity than any scientists.
The problem with Science! is that it has given us a worldview that is bleak and nihilistic. The followers of the Cult of Science! have rarely taken this into account. Did the acceptance of the heliocentric view of the solar system actually make the world a better place? Did the acceptance of the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution by natural selection make us happier? Was there great popular rejoicing when the Big Bang Theory displaced the Steady State Theory of the universe? These things made liberal secularists happier because they provided them with ammunition with which to pursue their war on Christianity. Did it make society as a whole better? Are we better off now that we generally believe that the universe is entirely without purpose and meaning and that our ancestors were ape-like creatures?
Of course Science! may well be right much of the time. Nobody today disputes the heliocentric view of the solar system. The question is not whether the scientific view is often correct, it is whether that view of the world has actually represented genuine progress. Progress is after all always a good thing, or so we’re told. But what if the scientific worldview has actually left us without any purpose or meaning in our own lives?
There’s also another very great danger to the cult of Science! Even the craziest ideas can gain credence if they can be labeled as scientific. Marx claimed that his wacky and misguided theories had to be correct because they were scientific. Freud’s even nuttier ideas were sold as science. In the 20th century we were even told there was such a thing as social science, an oxymoron if ever there was one. Straight-out political propaganda can be promoted as science – the global warming hysteria being a fine example.
Rather than eliminating superstition the Cult of Science! has provided us with a whole grab-bag of new superstitions. Rather than ushering in an age of reason what we actually ended up with was a mixture of emptiness, despair and superstition. Some Foundational Myths seem to work better than others.

blasphemy laws and why we may be stuck with them

I wasn’t going to mention the Stephen Fry blasphemy case but now Richard Dawkins has jumped in on the issue. Dawkins of course wants the blasphemy law repealed.
My position on this is a bit complex. I believe that if you have a mono-cultural mono-religion society then you don’t need blasphemy laws. The reality is that we don’t have that type of society any longer. We now have a multi-cultural multi-faith society. In such a society blasphemy laws are an unfortunate necessity. Minority views do need to be protected. If they’re not protected you’re going to have trouble. That’s just reality. We have something even more difficult to deal with – a society divided not only on cultural racial and religious lines but even more bitterly divided on ideological lines. A multi-cultural multi-faith multi-ideology society is a society in which conflict is going to be continuous and bitter. 
We already have a society in which Christianity is under never-ending and vicious attack. Now increasingly we have each of a variety of religions, including atheism, in a state of permanent low-level war. We also have a society in which atheists like Dawkins are permitted to attack religion without limits. If there are no limits to the viciousness of the attacks it’s all going to end very very badly. Unfortunately I do think some limits are needed on the extent of the viciousness of the attacks. Did Stephen Fry cross the line? That would be for a court to decide.
Of course in an ideal world we would never have allowed our society to become a multi-cultural multi-religion war zone. But we did allow that to happen and one of the unfortunate consequences is that blasphemy laws may be required in order to dampen down the conflicts.
This is the world that liberals (like Stephen Fry) wanted. Now they have to live with it. If you want diversity you end up needing all sorts of intrusive and unpleasant laws, such as blasphemy laws. A diverse society will either destroy itself or it will become a police state. You can have freedom or you can have diversity. You can’t have both. We chose diversity.

Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World.

My current reading is Julius Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World. It’s heavy going, especially if you limited tolerance for the wilder shores of mysticism, esotericism, magic and the occult. If you persist with it though there are plenty of profound and important insights into the sorry state in which our civilisation has landed itself. The second half of the book in particular is filled with key insights.

Evola’s idea of a revolt against the modern world is breathtakingly radical. In his view things started to go wrong a very very long time ago, and they went wrong in very fundamental ways. And his ideas on tradition are not exactly conventional.
There’s a lot of material to plough through in this book and I remain sceptical of much of it. I really wouldn’t feel in the least bit qualified even to attempt to review this book. There are however a few things that happened to catch my interest as they connect to other things I’ve been reading recently.
The first is his spirited championing of caste systems. Given that egalitarianism has proven to be a dangerous chimaera and that hierarchies are almost certainly both inevitable and necessary in a healthy society, and given that class divisions produce endless futile conflict, a caste system does seem to have its attractions.
The second point that struck me in this book is Evola’s enthusiasm for the ideal of chivalry. This is a little surprising at first in view of Evola’s disdain for Christianity. He argues however that the medieval ideal of chivalry was not entirely Christian in inspiration and that it avoids many of what he sees as the flaws and decadent features of Christianity. Of course it could be objected that chivalry was an ideal that was in all probability seldom practised, at least in a pure form. That doesn’t really matter. The fact that the idea of chivalry existed and that it struck such a powerful chord in the medieval imagination is what’s important.
My own reservations about Christianity are centred on its passive and excessively feminised nature and its unfortunate tendency to encourage the cult of victimology. These regrettable tendencies seemed to be much less evident in medieval Christianity, and the ideal of chivalry did seem to be a way of minimising those negative factors.
Medieval Christianity was a masculine religion that respected women. Such a thing is possible.
There seems to be no question that Christianity has lost its way and that this has been a gradual process that has taken centuries. The Middle Ages was the high water mark for the Christian faith. It’s been all downhill since then.

in praise of slut shaming

The campaign against slut shaming is one of the sadder and more self-defeating manifestations of the social disease known as feminism.
In retrospect our civilisation has committed few greater blunders than removing the stigma from out-of-wedlock births and putting the state into the position of surrogate father for the resulting children. We are rewarding women for irresponsible, selfish and destructive behaviour. It is no surprise that there has been a huge increase in irresponsible, selfish and destructive behaviour among women.
Related to this is an interesting piece at Dalrock on “father roulette” but more interesting still is the link to an earlier article We are trapped on Slut Island and Traditional Conservatives are our Gilligan.
While I’m not entirely convinced by his idea that the vast majority of out-of-wedlock pregnancies are due to such a small number of men that doesn’t diminish in any way the importance of his main points. Slut shaming is a good idea because it works. While it’s morally correct to condemn the men involved the fact is that shaming them will prove to be generally very ineffective. Shaming the sluts on the other hand has been historically demonstrated to be very effective indeed. If we wish to save our culture we need to look at solutions that will actually work in the real world.
Dalrock demolishes the tired defeatist arguments about double standards. There are double standards because men and women are radically different.
He’s also, quite rightly, contemptuous of the traditional conservatives who have been unwilling to run the risk of hurting the feelings of sluts.
This is an horrific social experiment gone wrong and it’s yet another case in which Christians have demonstrated a complete lack of backbone. Society is being trashed before their eyes but they think that if only they can sing Kumbaya a bit more loudly everything will be fine, and most importantly everything will be nice. Niceness is next to godliness.