Anyway, this is a commercial instinct we can't afford to follow. As Thomas Bertonneau notes in his latest Brussels Journal essay on Voegelin, there is a vocabulary developed by Voegelin - in his discussion of modern Gnosticism - that is particularly suited to discussing the political pathologies of our times. This is another rich piece from Professor Bertonneau, but one thing I will point out here is its discussion of Voegelin's caution to his friends not to call him a "conservative", a title he feared for its assertion of some false equivalence with the low religious world view of the "liberals":
The term “liberal,” like the term “change,” lends itself rather more to mendacious abuse than to just employment, especially when adopted as a label by the Left, which likes to hide its havoc-making program of transforming the un-transformable beneath the “L-word’s” ointment-like blandness. That the term “liberal” had long since devolved into something meaningless or misleading struck Voegelin already in the 1960s as a hindrance to transparent discourse.Before continuing with Bertonneau, I'll just point out that another way of saying this may be that what today goes by the name of "liberalism" is not itself a complete or satisfactory religion to the degree it cannot articulate a coherent, transcendent, purpose; rather it is, as Bertonneau say, a vehemently apocalyptic religion that relies on introducing ever-more alien and destructive ideas into Western society as a way of asserting its superiority according to the key doctrine of "tolerance", the supposed guarantor of liberalism's moral superiority. As Bertonneau says, "liberalism" is really an agenda of destruction. But, he argues, this should not give license to those of us opposed to modern "liberalism" to call ourselves conservative, as if there were a neat symmetry between the two:
When we examine the present scene in the United States, we discover just this conceit in the rhetoric of the sitting Democrat-dominated federal government. Vehement commitment to “progress” (“change we can believe in,” as Obama’s electoral slogan put it) differs hardly at all, perhaps only in a few small degrees, from vehement commitment to “permanent revolution,” quite as Leon Trotsky understood when he revived [Charles] Comte’s coinage in his new Bolshevik context. Voegelin writes: “The radical revolutionary must make the revolution into a permanent condition… for as soon as a plateau of stabilization is permitted, the revolution is over.”
if those who stand in opposition to the radicals were not adequately described as conservatives, as Voegelin strongly implies is the case, how then would one describe them? Or how, in this connection, is one to describe the current “Red-Blue” division in American politics?But, Bertonneau argues, these leaps in being are rare events, historically, and do not justify the "progressive" ideology.
Voegelin’s answer to such questions involves his identification of the radical-revolutionary mentality with Gnosticism, that is, with baroque, reality-denying doctrines, sprung from acute anxiety about existence, that bespeak the cause in the fashion of an unquestionable Koranic pronouncement, deviation from which constitutes a punishable offense. (Think: political correctness.) The opposite of Leftwing doctrinaire-ism, as we might call it, is not, however, some antithetical second doctrinaire-ism, equally baroque and locked in Manichaean agon with the first; it is what, in Voegelin’s discourse of the 1950s and 60s, goes by the name, among variants, of openness to existence. The Montreal lecture, “In Search of the Ground,” later appearing as an essay, offers one of the clearest expressions in Voegelin’s massive authorship of this concept.
An element in existence to which the mature individual maintains his “openness” is the cumulus of historic “differentiations in consciousness,” Voegelin’s term from Order and History. The phrase is not obscure: it refers to the fact that the prevailing knowledge of the world in any given cultural continuum – that of the West, for example – sometimes deepens and becomes richer through an individual insight; a “Leap in Being” can happen, as in Western thought when it jumped from mythic to philosophic ideas of existence.
what else, pray tell, is revealed in the assumption, lying at the basis of all radical political action, that a society, which also possesses a nature and is limited in its malleability by that nature, can be changed? This is not to assert that there is no discernible history of social development or that any given society continues to exist only insofar as it refuses to permit any internal alteration whatsoever. People tend, however, to exaggerate the extent of change.By coincidence, Gil Bailie has just posted a couple of quotations that provide another way of articulating this kind of argument. Under the heading, "More on the real counter culture", Bailie first quotes Philip Rieff:
I would argue, for example, that the abolition of slavery in the United States, while it abruptly and positively altered the condition of the ex-slaves, altered the larger society hardly at all, since only a tiny minority had ever owned human chattels; nor later on did the repeal of “Jim Crow” make much of a difference for the larger society even though it altered social conditions somewhat for American blacks in Democrat-dominated regions of the nation where anti-black feeling ran high.
In a slightly different way, Voegelin cites the case of Utah, when it petitioned for admission to the Union. The Union stipulated its condition: Membership in the federal polity or polygamy, one or the other for the Mormons, not both. The larger society would not assimilate change of that sort or the precedent it would set.
The limits of change for any society are much smaller than liberal or radical or Gnostic zeal ever admits. To be reconcilable with the society, such change as occurs must reflect a spontaneous consensus, because coercive change, as I have already argued, is tantamount only to annihilation. In the Eighth Century BC, Hellenic society was happy with the symbolism of the “intra-cosmic gods” and the world they implied; by the Fourth Century AD, Mediterranean humanity, by a long-gestating like-mindedness, found the old “intra-cosmic gods” no longer convincing or meaningful and began to reorient itself, either through Alexandrian Judaism and its offshoots, or through Neo-Platonism, or through Gospel Christianity to the later-emerging transcendent Divinity.
As country custom and as household ritual and as semi-comic superstition, the “intra-cosmic gods” lived on and they survive, attenuated in their potency, even to this day. As the image of divinity, wistfully, they perished, a new image replacing them that offered to its recipients a richer understanding of existence. That image, representing the discovery of a new depth in reality, has stood in place in the West for two thousand years.
It follows that sensible people should behave with extraordinary circumspection where it concerns cavalier, wishful, or resentful programs of “change” because, as Voegelin so poignantly shows in his essays, radical “change” based on passions is definitely not the “progress” that it claims itself to be: It is not the “Leap in Being” but the frightened, dangerous opposite – a lapse into primitive thinking and myth.
Opposition to “change” for the sake of change, and to “change” as goalless indefinite regress, which is what the vaunted “progress” really is, will likely take the name of Conservatism, the very label that Voegelin wanted not to descend on him as the sign of his political identity. Voegelin knew that words, like ideas, have consequences. Under this admonition, a number of cautionary remarks can be made about the word “Conservatism” and what it implies. For one thing, as soon as one posits Conservatism, one has created an inevitable verbal artifact – Conservatism versus Liberalism – that is structurally Manichaean. This should give us pause. Manichaean, dualistic structures are a characteristic Gnostic appurtenance, which philosophers should avoid.
I recall here my earlier argument that the opposition to ideological doctrine cannot be another ideological doctrine, for that would be ideological rivalry without meaning rather than engagement in debate for the sake of truth. It would be other than the dignified quest, as, to use Voegelin’s essay-title, “In Search of the Ground.”
What the organized Right-leaning opposition to the Party of Destruction does is, finally, more important than what it calls itself even though words have meanings and usages signify something. I am encouraged, slightly, by the way in which spontaneous demonstrations of popular ire against overweening big-government schemes – like “bailouts” and socialized medical insurance – have surprised and actually checked the dictatorial bullying of the Obama regime. When an amateur journalist-reporter, FOX News Channel’s Glenn Beck, publicized the curriculum vitae and words of Obama adviser Van Jones, a nutty Marxist-racialist, it led to the first departure-under-outside-pressure of an Obama appointee. It is a sign of the times that actual investigative reporting is now done by someone like Beck, who previously was little other than a radio-comedian whose main shtick consisted in making prank telephone calls to predictably dimwitted people in a recurring feature called “Jeopretardy.”
Far from being offended, currently one of the most offensive words in the political jargon, by the silently mouthed “That is not true” – uttered by Supreme Court Justice Alito when President Obama gratuitously insulted the court during his State of the Union Address – I take heart in it because Obama’s disrespect was rooted in a falsehood and Robert’s quiet but visible contradiction was rooted in truth. There should be a good deal more clear articulation of the fact that the deconstructors of society have doctrines, false doctrines galore, and that we, by contrast, have an interest in truth, to the objectivity of which we remain open.
Cultic doctrines kill freedom; they demand its immolation in the sacrificial flames of their causes. Truth and free will – truth and freedom – by contrast require and nourish one another. We must vigorously remind our friends and neighbors of these facts.
Here we now see, with startling clarity, how little our established political distinctions between left and right, conservative and radical, revolutionary and reactionary, matter nowadays. Rather, any remaking of political distinctions will have to ask, first, whether there is in fact a discipline of inwardness, a mobilization for fresh renunciations of instinct; or whether there is only the discipline of outwardness, a mobilizing for fresh satisfactions of instinct. Such a distinction will divide contemporary men and movements more accurately; then we shall find fashionable liberals and fascists on the same side, where they really belong.And then he quotes Hans Urs von Balthasar:
The road to authenticity demands the renunciation of immediacy -- that is, it demands ascesis. No great life can reach maturity without ‘great sacrifice’.And finally, if you are not yet clear on what is being attacked in this post, and you want a concrete example, take a look at Barry Rubin's latest on the "education" his son is receiving:
The teacher told the fourth grade class in the midst of the greatest snow storm in Washington DC history: "Just because it's snowing doesn't mean that there isn't global warming. All scientists agree that there's global warming."Indeed, there is nothing "liberal" about modern liberalism; so perhaps we should question those who would take up the mantle of conservatism.
My son raised his hand and said: "That's impossible. Not all scientists agree."
"Ok," said the teacher, "I meant to say that the majority of scientists agree."
Is there man-made global warming? I have no idea whatsoever, lacking the expertise to make such a judgment. But I do know this isn't the way to teach kids about the scientific method. Rather, it is the way to train them always to yield to peer pressure, that dreaded syndrome supposed to lead young people to drugs, alcohol, and smoking. Or, as summed up comically by the character Yossarian in Catch-22, "Just because everyone thinks that way how could I think anything different?"
Indeed, the teacher didn't have to say anything at all, since no child had claimed the heavy snowfall was proof that there was no global warming. They had already spent around three full sessions pounding home the idea that there wasn't any question that global warming is a huge problem on which trillions of dollars must be spent. Presumably, the class was convinced already.
Rather, the attitude evined is that they must be made to believe in this and even the possibility of any doubt existing had to be squelched. And to ensure this the teacher told a lie, which was only retracted because there was one student there who had the knowledge and courage to question it.
This kind of "everyone agrees" argument is the stuff of indoctrination, not learning. The teacher could have spoken about how data is collected, experiments are made, hypotheses are questioned, and out of that debate--if it goes on long enough and all the facts line up--comes a consensus truth which is itself subject to further testing and constant examination.
But that isn't how most schools teach today. Rather they say--in an approach sounding like the worst "progressive" stereotype of a traditional "America is always right" old school system--This is the truth. Everyone says so. Shut up and believe it.