War and demonization

It’s a commonplace of the right-wing thought that liberalism intensifies the destructiveness of warfare. In fact, this used to be a commonplace of liberalism, too. Michael Walzer was one of the earliest writers to suggest an explicit trade-off between ius in bello and ius ad bellum. The right to war infuses one side (the side which had a right to go to war) with an aura of purity that can be used to justify the pursuit of victory by any means necessary. But a standard of right conduct in an ongoing war presupposes some rule that neither side ought to break, and to apply such a standard we must not presuppose that one side or the other ought to win. So the attempt to replace gallant but senseless wars leads to judicious butchery. In an enlightened war, the belligerents begin with self-righteous posturing before war breaks out, and afterwards prove the strength of their principles by the shamelessness of their behavior.

Another commonplace: one aspect of this intensification is the demonization of the enemy. Nomadic herders who were nearly certain to die in one of their many skirmishes could view their enemies with respect (and aspire to fall before a worthy foe). Republican armies apparently won’t fight against anything less satanic than Big Cotton and the Evils of Slavery.

What is peculiar is that this demonization was not reined in but rather inflamed by liberalism’s own recognition of it! To blame governments rather than their peoples for wars appears to be a sound application of “don’t hate the player, hate the game”. But Woodrow Wilson’s doctrine, which became the orthodoxy of the liberal internationalist order, had strange implications. Hanging the Kaiser rather than the Kraut then became hating Hitler rather than his German Volk. From there, via the inner political logic of mass society, it became hatred of anyone “complicit in the Nazi regime”; and next, it became hatred of any and all adherents to the platform and principles of the NSDAP, or to any similar principles; and thus also hatred of all racists; which of course includes white people who don’t want their countries’ populations replaced by imported foreign labor. So in the end, loving the nations of Europe and hating only enemy governments has spread a venomous hatred, not only of the nations of our “enemies” (i.e., of nations we signed peace treaties with sixty years ago), but of the population of all white nations, within our ruling elite.

It’s a strange historical irony and I wonder whether it is logically connected to the Wilson’s “generosity” towards the defeated nations (heh), or was instead a contingent outcome of the political dynamics that spread anti-white ideology at each step.

World War I was a mess

The centennial of Armistice Day is coming up this autumn.

Ugh.

For eleven thousand years, as soon as any peasant could put his name to a few bags of coins he would grab his spade, run outside, and dig a hole in the ground. His talents were going directly into that hole, so that when the government came around to announce the latest round of taxes, he could shrug his shoulders and tell them there was nothing left to take.

Gradually the regular system of tithes and dues helped inject some predictability into the fiscal system, but farmers were still burying their valuables in the ground for centuries. You never really know when someone’s going to need to commandeer your cash and leave you with an IOU.

The shocking thing about the Great War wasn’t the death toll or the carnage of modern weaponry or even the ruinous trench-warfare strategies. The most shocking thing was simply how much the citizenry paid their rulers so they could fight one another. They paid taxes, of course. But stranger still, they voluntarily lent their states money on top of what they legally owed.

I’d be curious to know why, exactly. One possibility is that all the major European states had had stable finances for roughly a century. The bankruptcies of the Bourbons were a distant memory. Another possibility is that all of the citizens had soberly considered the costs of defeat (look at Weimar Germany; look at Russia) and made the civic-minded decision to cooperate for the common good.

A third possibility is that 1914-1918 unleashed modern propaganda on a naive and undefended continent for the first time. Propaganda has surely become more devious in the last century, but I suspect it has never truly regained its original potency.

The disaster of WWI wasn’t just that the European populations cheerfully lent their states whatever they needed to intensify the war, but that they truly expected to be paid back. There the propaganda succeeded too well.

Diversity Kiddies Create Their Own Reality

Once upon a time there was an argument between Bolsheviks and everyone else about how much of personal success is determined by industry and talent, and how much by sheer luck, prejudice, and connections. Now there is no more argument — or at least, not very much of one. No matter where you turn (corporate office-hives, the vast bureaucracies of the federal government, academia, show-biz) the delightfully Orwellian culture of “affirmative action” is spreading its tentacles. The more positions awarded to the lazy, the incompetent (blacks, women…), the more the Bolshevik thesis becomes partially true: personal success isn’t determined by industry and talent. At least not any more. And of course, the leftist cadres are the true believers. They know that every day they bullshit their way through professional problems that they are ill-equipped to solve; that makes it easy for them to imagine that all the remaining white males (the ones who, y’know, actually make the company profitable) are doing the same thing. The injustice of it probably makes their blood boil!

So, needless to say, they scheme all the more doggedly to have fewer positions awarded on merit and more awarded to their fellow diversity kiddies.

The Three Ammonii

There are three Platonist philosophers named Ammonius. Stay on your toes!

I. Ammonius the Peripatetic

  • 1st c. AD
  • Middle Platonist
  • Called “the Peripatetic” for knowledge of Aristotle (but integrating Aristotle into a Platonic curriculum was not his innovation; eclectic/syncretic approaches to Stoic and Aristotelian doctrine had already been part of Platonism in 1st c. BC)
  • Teacher of Plutarch (46 AD – 120 AD), prolific Middle Platonist and Delphic priest
  • Appears as a character in PERI TOY EI (“On the ‘E’ at Delphi”)

II. Ammonius Saccas

  • fl. 3rd. c. AD
  • Transitional figure between late Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism
  • Considered Plato and Aristotle to be defending same  doctrine
  • Alexandria
  • Teacher of Origen* and Plotinus (c. 204 AD – 270 AD)

III. Ammonius Hermiae

  • 440 AD – c. 520 AD
  • Neoplatonist
  • Student of Proclus Lycaeus (412 AD – 485 AD)
  • Son of Hermias (b. 410 AD), a student of Proclus’s predecessor Syrianus; brother of Heliodorus, another Alexandrian Neoplatonist
  • Teacher of Damascius (458 AD – c. 538 AD; last scholarch of Athens’ Neoplatonic Academy), Olympiodorus (495 AD – 570 AD; “the Younger”), Simplicius (490 AD –  560 AD), John Philoponus (490 AD – 560 AD), Ascelpius of Trailles (d. circa 565 AD)
  • Revived Alexandria as a major center of philosophy; his students include authors of the final major Aristotelian commentaries of antiquity (Simplicius, Philiponus, Damascius), participants at the 553 Council of Constantinople (Philiponus, as an advocate for the miaphysite perspective), and the teachers of the majority of subsequent Christian Aristotelians
  • Substantially simplified and clarified the elaborate system of Plotinist metaphysics codified by Proclus

 

[*] N.b., Ammonius Saccas taught both the famous Origen (“the Christian”) and also another “Origen the Pagan” who was the first teacher of Plotinus’s disciple Porphyry. This has inspired various hypotheses about possible conflation/confusion/confabulation in the accounts concerning the students of Ammonius Saccas, as you can imagine. Likewise his student Cassius Longinus, a friend of Plotinus, was often confused with the 1st c. author of “On the Sublime” (PERI HYPSOUS). And to be exhaustive about these philological curiosities: Ammonius Saccas’s own teacher, Hermeias, is easily confused with the philosopher Hermias, the father of Ammonius Hermiae.

Reality is Ugly (Race and Gender)

Race and gender issues are the two most significant areas where Leftist ideology and social policy channel disillusionment with specific leftist policies into self-conscious resistance to the Left.  Perhaps this is not surprising; there are extensive parallels between the two areas. In both cases,

  1. people can categorize one another at a glance on the basis of a brief inspection of superficial traits, and can make inferences about non-observed individual traits on the basis of group averages.
  2. there are real differences between average group traits caused by genetics (in races, recent shared ancestry; in men and women, chromosomal differences).
  3. social outcomes for the group are affected by underlying biology, and so variance in different groups’ social problems may have biological explanations.
  4. In particular: in both cases, outliers may find it inconvenient to be confused with modal group-members (see #1), and may try to find ways (political or otherwise) to encourage/force strangers not to treat them like a modal member.
  5.  the pure form of Leftist ideology denies biological differences between groups, while the more moderate forms deny that biological differences should ever matter.
  6. the Left comes up with creative fictions to explain social problems caused by group traits; inevitably these fables slide from absolving the group of responsibility for its own problems, to blaming other groups.
  7.  when reforms based on these fables fail to solve the problems, new fables with an even broader scope are concocted to explain how the scapegoat-groups sabotaged the original solution.
  8. … the categories coordinate one’s participation in a major social sphere: people self-segregate to form ethnically homogenous (and thus culturally harmonious) communities, and they pair off to form families wherein a husband and wife can each play a specialized role suited to their talents and tastes.
  9. bizarre and constantly changing theories about how to solve “social problems” stemming from group differences (see #7) start to interfere with human flourishing within the relevant social sphere (community-formation is impeded in one case, and family-formation in the other).
  10. … the Left attempts to gain one group as a special constituency and increasingly adopts a platform of identity politics, pushing openly negative-sum policies that help the in-group only at the expense of the out-group (and in many cases do not help the group as a whole at all, but only its leaders and/or its most politically radical elements).
  11. In particular: the distribution of jobs, offices, honors and academic admissions is no longer viewed either as a private matter or as a matter of individual merit, but as political spoils for groups to fight over.
  12. In both cases, political debate and virtue-signaling increasingly come to revolve around insults (like “racist” and “sexist”) whose purpose is to create scapegoats for a group’s problems (see #7), and in particular to demean those who confuse outlier members and modal members (#4), who admit that group differences have biological roots (#2); ultimately, these labels come to refer to anyone who notices group traits at all (#1).

“Progress” in these two areas is a major contributor to the overall feedback loop which fuels leftward acceleration.  These are probably also, out of all the Left’s issues, the ones which have ultimately caused the most suffering: partly because family formation and community formation are so central to human life, partly because so many different policies are gathered together under these two rubrics.

Indeed, progressives actively work to recategorize their pet issues under “race issues” or “gender issues” precisely because racism and sexism are so central to the Left’s rhetorical strategy.  But people hate being slandered, so the very effectiveness of this rhetorical strategy forces the Left’s politically-incorrect targets notice its use and detest its users!

What’s more, race and gender are two topics where both personal experience and basic high-school biology demonstrate the absurdity of the ideology of political correctness.  Everyone knows that the Left is lying.

 

[This material is drawn from my earlier essay Recipe for Reaction, where it appeared within a broader explanation of the new energy on the Right in the last three years. However, it was somewhat counterproductive to bury a concise analysis of the structure of identity politics in a long essay on a different topic.]

Wallace on Updike on the Boomers

I recently came across David Foster Wallace’s hatchet-job on John Updike. It’s always fun to read a good hatchet-job. Now, some of the things DFW says in the review make it seem like if he hadn’t hanged himself, he would have ended up as a tranny or worse. That’s the beautiful thing about a DFW hatchet-job; he typically ends up humiliating himself nearly as badly as his actual target, so you get a double-serving of delicious, delicious Schadenfreude.

Amidst all the cringing lefty pieties and self-abasement, there a few observations that are worth repeating.

I’m guessing that for the young educated adults of the 60s and 70s, for whom the ultimate horror was the hypocritical conformity and repression of their own parents’ generation, Mr. Updike’s evocation of the libidinous self appeared redemptive and even heroic. But the young educated adults of the 90s — who were, of course, the children of the same impassioned infidelities and divorces Mr. Updike wrote about so beautifully — got to watch all this brave new individualism and self-expression and sexual freedom deteriorate into the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation. Today’s sub-40s have different horrors, prominent among which are anomie and solipsism and a peculiarly American loneliness: the prospect of dying without once having loved something more than yourself.

DFW isn’t saying anything here that a lot of other folks haven’t said already. He did have the acuity to have said it in 1997, though — and given his stylistic talents, his observation is instructive not only in its content, but as a model for how to express a thought that many have had.

Schisms and Politics

I’ve posted every so often about the relationship between informal power and ecclesiastical hierarchy: [link] [link] [link]. As a quick summary, informal power is the sort of power that accumulates in kafkaesque bureaucracies where many people have influence and veto-power over a final decision, but no one has responsibility. It’s dangerous because there’s a great deal of uncertainty over outcomes, and uncertainty leads to conflict (and violence, and insecurity, and arms-races). Religions almost invariably exercise capacities (like teaching their adherents how to distinguish between holy and unholy, sin and righteousness, salvation and damnation) that are not themselves laws or judicial rulings, but nevertheless mold how ordinary citizens make sense of laws and judicial rulings. Therefore organized religion must be supervised by the same sovereign who makes formal law, or else it will become yet another bastion of informal power and social subversion. Disorganized religion is typically not a threat, but it can become a bastion of informal power if tiny independent congregations are all nudged in the same directions by a few powerful coordinating forces.

But the conditions for political harmony are not necessarily the conditions for theological unity.

It’s remarkable that the main schisms in Christianity started immediately after the conversion of Constantine, and continued to accumulate at an alarming rate under the Eastern Emperors until the latter had been forced back practically into the theme of Byzantium itself. No matter how many branches were already in schism, so long as there were chariot races to watch in Constantinople you can bet your last bezant that there was some new religious factionalism brewing in the Greek Church.

But then once the infidel had triumphed in the East, and the Greek Orthodox metropoleis were reduced to the status of tolerated millets within the caliphate, they managed to remain unified for the next 500 years.

The only remaining autocephalous Eastern Church which was sufficiently free of Muslim suzerainty to recreate caesaropapism was the Russian Orthodox Church. But barely had the Romanovs cobbled together an empire worthy of the name before the Patriarch Nikon had blown it apart again.

Likewise, after the Western Church went into schism with the patriarchs loyal to Byzantium, Western Europe was free from schism for hundreds of years (despite many sharp disagreements about theology and politics)… right up until the point that the Holy Roman Emperor was once again the most powerful prince in Western Christendom. And then bam, immediate schism.

These three examples don’t align perfectly. The pattern may be spurious. In Russia, to a first approximation, the issue seems to have been that as the expanding Russian Empire drew more and more fragments of the Slavonic/Greek Church within itself, liturgical peculiarities became a rallying point for rebels in the newly-incorporated provinces. So the Romanovs had an interest in religious uniformity, which meant they were shopping around for rationales to force one side to conform to the other. Ultimately the excuse they liked was that the Old Slavonic liturgical texts didn’t match the standard Greek texts… so they must be corrupted… so the Muscovites should adapt their liturgy to that of their emperor’s newest subjects. Insta-schism.

(In the end the rationale turned out to be spurious; it was the Byzantines who had made alterations to the original forms, not the Slavs. Whatever.)

I’m not qualified to comment on the Russian schism in depth. But superficially, at least, the case sounds very similar to the difficulties the Stuarts had with their newly-united kingdoms. It would have been easy enough to impose religious uniformity on England or on Scotland (assuming the reigning monarch wanted a uniformity of belief in the ballpark of the variation that already existed). But the task of imposing one standard on both was more difficult, because it meant one of the kingdoms would get a rather radical new policy. And the task of imposing two independent standards was hardly more promising, because it meant the British Presbyterians would have a permanent stronghold in Scotland from which to plot the takeover of England, and the British Episcopalians would have an analogous base of influence in England. (We haven’t even mentioned Ireland yet, so imagine trying to square all of this…)

The schisms in the Eastern Empire look more like purity spirals, but I don’t want to say too much off the cuff. Interpreting Byzantine history is terribly difficult. Roughly speaking, symbolic conflicts can easily take on an “everything not permitted is forbidden”-aspect if offense is a more powerful strategy than defense. “Proving” that some theological position X is totally permissible and non-heretical is quite difficult (especially if that means proving that it is absolutely consistent with every article of faith which might be essential to orthodoxy). Showing that the opposite doctrine, not-X, could be taken to contradict some interpretation of some orthodox doctrine is, by comparison, much easier. But this means that every school accused of error will want to quickly build a case that all of their opponents are heretics, as a form of self-defense.

Charles V had problems that match “multi-kingdom balancing act” and problems that match “symbolic arms race”. The best thing the Hapsburgs could have done for the stability of their empire — from a purely instrumental point of view — would have been to blow up the Brenner Pass to make sure that no German monks ever got within 100 miles of the Roman Curia. Taking off my Christian-hat and putting on my empire-hat, I will restrict myself to the observation that the mores of Renaissance Italy differed significantly from those of Germany, and standards of pious behavior differed too. If it was impossible for the Emperor to prevent his subjects from being aware of their differences, the next best thing would have been to try to convince the residents of each duchy that their responsibility for the religious orthodoxy of their neighbors ended at the borders of their feudal lord’s domain.