Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Mess Of An Article That Is, Nonetheless, Worth Reading

As the brawl here over the last two days has shown, simplistic views of historical reality tend to be incomplete, inaccurate, prone to falsification and, most of all, opportunistic fabulization.  I would go so far as to say that any attempt to draw up hard classifications of what the "left" and what the "right" have and do do is guaranteed to consist of that because, among other things "the left" has never been a monolithic entity that held even the most basic assumptions about reality in common.   As I've been trying to elucidate, the traditional American liberalism and the secular left, in many important ways have little in common and many inevitable points of tension.  It is obvious for anyone who cares to admit it, the ideological framing of the secular left is incompatible and destructive of traditional American liberalism.

I will assert here that there is a real and as unadmitted phenomenon on the right, between the vulgar, Mammonist materialism of market capitalism and any conservatism that asserts that it is motivated by the Gospel of Jesus, as can be seen in the scandalous fact that a huge percentage of self-described evangelicals have voted for the vulgar materialist servant of Mammon, Donald Trump.  Trump is a man so degenerate that even some secular conservatives who maintain the vestiges of morality and principle have rejected Trump's kleptocratic, treasonous depravity even as many religious conservatives have overlooked his multiple marriages, his flagrant and lurid adulteries, his massive corruptions and swindles.

The motive that leads me to restate that is this article in the Jesuit magazine America in which Aaron Pidel asks if Benedict XVI didn't predict this years ago:

More than 13 years ago, in a homily given at the conclave that would later elect him Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spoke of a growing “dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” The urgent call for a return to truth-based religion, far from repelling the cardinals, distinguished Ratzinger as the frontrunner for papal office.

Ratzinger’s papal platform did not prove broadly appealing. The secular pundits of the last decade often ignored his warning as the scare tactic of a dogmatist unable to adjust to the benign pluralism of a world that had, in keeping with Kant’s rallying cry, “dared to think.” I doubt the pope emeritus has much energy nowadays to follow the many instructive ironies of the Trump era; but if he did, he might take just the tiniest bit of satisfaction in seeing not just the religious right but also the secular left denouncing a growing “dictatorship of relativism.” Ratzinger’s distinctive emphasis on freedom’s need for truth, in other words, may have come not too late but too early to find a bipartisan hearing in the United States.

Pidal goes through a case accusing the left, especially the academic left, in the promotion of that kind of corrosive relativism and, granted, the secular left and even many in the religious left who fell for those lines gives him quite a bit to work with.

He, though, does note that it is the Republican right, the right-wing media, legal establishment, who have rowed that scow ashore:

The irony in this evolution of U.S. culture, Andersen notes, is not that ivory-tower insanity failed to remain confined to the academy but that postmodernism took deepest root in the sector of society that is normally most suspicious of university elites. The new communication vectors of social media and talk radio, with their broad accessibility and immunity from peer review, accelerated the rightward movement of the belief that all reality is socially “constructed” to such an extent that “starting in the 1990s, America’s unhinged right became much larger and more influential than its unhinged left.”

As evidence of the right’s proclivity toward fantasy, Andersen recalls its many paranoia-based enthusiasms: fear of one-world government, gun-control fanaticism, seven-day creationism, climate-change skepticism and more. Perhaps the most insightful aspect of Andersen’s narrative is his conclusion that right and left extremes have now met: “Neither side has noticed, but large factions of the elite left and the populist right have been on the same team.”

That hard fact, that historical experiment with reality might lead Pidel to guess that his original analysis of the origin of that relativism has something rather drastically wrong with it, though I would say the problem isn't with the facts he draws on, it is that his failure to distinguish between lefts and rights that don't fit well within that simple model and disprove that models' adequacy to arrive at reliable truth.

There is some irony that he cites the very academic sources that he found so lacking in wisdom as declaring a new disenchantment with that relativism.

Examples of the secular left’s re-enchantment with objective reality abound. Professor Mark Lilla of Columbia University was perhaps the first out of the gate with his interpretation of Hillary Clinton’s defeat as “the end of identity liberalism” in a New York Times article in November 2016. Obsession with diversity has produced, he laments, a “generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined group.” Donald J. Trump’s victory shows that this has ultimately “encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored.” The way back for Democrats, accordingly, lies in recovering a rhetoric of the common good and a shared destiny. Though Lilla does not use the language of “natural” or “objective” morality, he presupposes their reality. For how can a good be common, or a destiny shared, unless it is somehow discernible by all reasonable people?

Just as a start, when in post-war history didn't "white, rural, religious Americans" NOT think of themselves as a disadvantaged group "whose identity is being threatened or ignored."  Only someone who has never much looked at the history of the United States could make that claim that that's a reaction to the "identity politics" of the last several decades.  I'd wonder how Pidal didn't manage to notice such things as the populist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, the white backlash that followed the all too brief Reconstruction period,  pretty much the rise of the formal Fundamentalism in Protestantism.

In the one place he mentions populism, it's today's populism,

As evidence of the right’s proclivity toward fantasy, Andersen recalls its many paranoia-based enthusiasms: fear of one-world government, gun-control fanaticism, seven-day creationism, climate-change skepticism and more. Perhaps the most insightful aspect of Andersen’s narrative is his conclusion that right and left extremes have now met: “Neither side has noticed, but large factions of the elite left and the populist right have been on the same team.”

though I don't disagree with the point that is made, in fact, it's the one I've been pushing relentlessly for a long time, that ideological, academic materialism has a lot in common with vulgar, market capitalist materialism even as it undermines and corrodes egalitarian liberalism.   As I've noted there is a well traveled, though very, very short road from various species of Marxism and even Socialism and the hard-right, that would be because those were never any more than a step apart.

I do have some very strong disagreements with what is said in the article though there is also a lot in it that I think is very well said and true and useful for understanding the world we are in today.  And why that world can't be allowed to stand or it will destroy democracy and likely us with it.

I think one of the most important things that might contribute to doing that is to admit that the religious left, when it is true to its religious convictions has a lot of common ground that can be made with more moderate religious conservatives, though the bedrock that common ground rests on is The Law, The Prophets and The Gospel.  I would guess that there are other religious communities that could be included, certainly many who would bring the Qur'an to the table.   I don't see any point with trying to include materialists because their fundamental ideology cannot be anything but destructive of the goals of such an attempt, materialism is the source of that very relativism that Pidel identifies as the problem.  I think it's far more basic than relativism, it's the Mammonism it is in service of. 

Do read Pidel's article, it is long and complex and, as I said, there is a lot to it even as there is a lot that is too simply put.   For the record, I've noted any number of times that arch conservatives though they were, Benedict XVI and John Paul II were far more radical than just about any secularist leftist on the issues of economic justice, Pope Francis is far more radical on that and many other vitally important issues, certainly on environmental catastrophe.  I'll bet you that there is little to nothing more realistically radical that issues from the upcoming Left Forum than the various documents that have come from the Vatican in the last five years.

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