I recently stumbled on a book review from a few years ago and found myself reading this:
One might have expected a project on the “impact” of a philosophical movement such as German Idealism to cover not only the good news but also the bad (as it were), but these introductions conspicuously fail to do so. Examples of the darker side of German Idealism arguably include, in addition to its overambitious systematic pretentions, its apriorism, its perpetuation of religious, and in particular Christian, myths long after these had been discredited by the French and British Enlightenment, its occasional nationalism (Fichte’s Speeches to the German Nation), and its occasional racism and anti-semitism (here the main culprit is Kant).
What we observe here is an inflection point in the inner dynamics of the Manichaean mindset. The general pattern of this mindset is that all reality must be understood as a war between Light and Darkness; the living must be forced to choose a side, and the dead must be pigeonholed as partisans of one side or another. But within this overarching pattern there are more complex subsequences, for while the narrative the Manichaeans construct portrays the universe as an all-consuming war between Progress and Tradition, and the net effect of this is, in fact, to mobilize resources for a progressive war on the social order, the reality (to which we, who resist progressivism, must not be blind) is that there are many struggles going on at the same time, including within the progressive camp.
We see a particular version of these struggles at the point when the Cathedral switches to “We have always been at war with Eastasia”. While the overall logic of Manichaeanism is that any historical figure must either be a heroic forerunner of Our Progressive Values or else an ugly racist, there is no immaculate transfer from one side to the other; we must seek to explain why the bolsheviks shift from one dominant interpretation of a historical figure or field to another in the micro-behavior of the priestly class.
Specifically, when there is a reigning orthodoxy that some historical figure (Kant, say) is a heroic progressive, then for your average Brahmin it is low-status to deny it. This is not primarily a matter of virtue signaling; while there is some element of that (projecting an inability to believe that a brilliant man like Kant could have been anything but a leader of the Children of Light, for example) it is not the whole explanation, because you can equally well signal your virtue by express outrage that anyone could admire a Dead White Male like Kant.
The micro-incentives that promote intra-Cathedral orthodoxy are more complicated and varied than that. For one thing, while the orthodoxy exists it will be espoused by the bishops who run the most elite institutions. If you show that you are unfamiliar with the faction within the Cathedral that chooses to cast Kant as a heroic progressive, then you prove that you didn’t attend the schools that faction controls. Furthermore, the mental gymnastics required to make these kinds of Manichaean portrayals work are complicated, so dissenting from them amounts to an admission that you are too stupid or lazy to master the relevant esoterica. Low status!
But the author of the review I quoted is not low status. He is in fact very high status. This does not mean he would not like to be higher status, though; the only thing a bishop resents more than a heretic is a more powerful bishop. There are many tactics the priestly class uses to fight for power in its internal battles. One of these is to affect a higher level of holiness, a stronger obsession with purity than the other priests. In some cases this requires the priest to prove that he has a high disgust threshold, that he is less disgusted than other priests by things that the laity find revolting but which are doctrinally speaking “clean”; this shows his indifference to anything other than true purity. Conversely, he can prove that he has a high disgust sensitivity by obsessively avoiding all traces of contamination, and proving that he is revolted by the thought of anything resembling impurity, even if it perfectly within the bounds of “the clean” according to orthodoxy.
This may be what we are seeing here. The author is extremely learned, quite familiar with the details of the Cathedral’s Kant scholarship and (I believe) a prominent contributor to it. (If you want to confirm this, read the review and look for his minute dissections of the historical errors in the volume he is reviewing.) So there is no risk that if he appears hesitant to accept the orthodoxy that Kant is a progressive hero it will be taken as a sign of low-prestige affiliations — or at least, not by the upper echelons of the Cathedral whose opinions matter. (As I have discussed before it is inherently high-status for people who are high-status to send the stereotypically low-status signals that a man of middling status will scrupulously avoid.)
As a result, the reviewer has the luxury of signaling his extreme sensitivity to the impure, unprogressive elements in German idealism without denying the orthodoxy or endangering his reputation for familiarity with it.
As you begin to see signs that the upper echelons of the Cathedral are willing to back off from some of the rigidity of a certain dogmatic interpretation in order to compete more strenuously for prestige, be aware of the possibility that you may be looking at an ideological opening. Left to their own devices, the Brahmins will all start to signal disgust if this proves to be a successful prestige-strategy for the early adopters, and in the ensuing purity spiral they will go from using their reservations about the dogma to signal their extraordinary holiness to actually reversing the dogma itself.
But at some point in this phase-transition, there is a maximum of factional tension in the Cathedral. Some factions are pursuing prestige with a fanatic defense of the unstable dogma, others are making a great show of their reluctance and disgust at upholding a position that they do, in the end, endorse, and still others are already denying the dogma. The most enterprising priests will see their status skyrocket with complicated, opportunistic positions combining inconsistent elements which allow them to act as intermediaries between different faction while remaining orthodox in the eyes of all of them.
For the most important priests these struggles are absorbing. They present opportunity for advancement and danger of disgrace in equal measure. But for the lower echelons — metaphorically, the country vicars, the deacons, the choir boys — they are simply confusing. They make it difficult for someone who is ill-suited to theological disputation to navigate the confusing tides of orthodoxy, and difficult to understand or accept the discordant sermons they must listen to. (Remember, leftism is like a language; there is no inner logic to it so you must get consistent, repetitive exposure to it to learn it by heart.)
Thus the opening. This is probably the point at which it is most conceivable to shatter the Manichaean illusion — to convince ordinary that Kant was a 1488’er and that he was also a hero of Western civilization and also planted the seeds of what have become destructive and incoherent creeds and also was a champion of faith against a shallow secular materialism, and the godfather of the most successful resistance to these destructive creeds and also…
Worlds within worlds within worlds. Whether Kant was a good boy who dindu nuffin’, of course, is not really the point. It would be nice to reconquer lost territory, but the decisive question is whether we can free others from the vice of seeing history in black and white.