So I’m mostly back from my self-imposed ascetic period. I needed some time to clear my head, and politics certainly has a way of muddying the religious waters. But I feel that I can safely return to my long-winded screeds and overly-involved fisks. And my friends, we have a whopper today. In fact, this is not just a fisk, it is a comparison of two viewpoints, one interesting and one a well-spun lie. Before we get into it, I have this observation for you:
One of the more penetrating questions to a liberal is “when is my duty satisfied?” It lacks the grounding necessary to recognize a success condition. It embraces its own form of original sin, but lacks the redemption method.
Think carefully on this. Leftists generally like to, for example, push taxes higher. What rate of taxation is enough, after which they must better allocate the funds instead of asking for more? With respect to racial grievances, how many affirmative action programs, how much money, how much tireless media spin is necessary before we can say that we have satisfied the duty they ask of us? What level of involvement in Social Justice programs is enough that, when satisfied, the person can proudly state that he is not racist/sexist/whatever?
If you cheat and look in the back of the book, so to speak, you will find that the answer is nothing. Nothing will satisfy them. Nothing is ever enough. Unlike Christianity, the original sin of Liberalism can never be expunged. There is no redemption, racist.
Don’t believe me? Let’s fisk some of this.
The New York Times bestselling author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism sat down with Teaching Tolerance to discuss why working against one’s own fragility is a necessary part of white anti-racist work—and why good intentions don’t matter.
And later in the article she expands on this:
I think intentions are irrelevant. It’s nice to know you had good intentions, but the impact of what you did was harmful. And we need to let go of our intentions and attend to the impact, to focus on that.
Intentions don’t matter. That’s a good place to start, and by itself explains a great deal about Progressive political thought. In a criminal case, intentions do matter. If you intend to kill someone, that is murder, and it is worse than killing someone by accident, which may be manslaughter or negligent homicide, or some other thing. Or, if the other person intended to harm you, your killing him in turn may be justified. Intentions surely do matter. What happens in the physical world also matters, of course, but to say good intentions don’t matter is already a lie.
Well, when I coined [white fragility], the fragility part was meant to capture how little it takes to upset white people racially. For a lot of white people, the mere suggestion that being white has meaning will cause great umbrage. Certainly generalizing about white people will. Right now, me saying “white people,” as if our race had meaning, and as if I could know anything about somebody just because they’re white, will cause a lot of white people to erupt in defensiveness. And I think of it as a kind of weaponized defensiveness. Weaponized tears. Weaponized hurt feelings. And in that way, I think white fragility actually functions as a kind of white racial bullying.
Fascinatingly enough, the author tells us that white fragility is actually a form of Weaponized Empathy, in so many words. It’s interesting to note this because this is a very clear form of projection. I’ve delved a lot into Weaponized Empathy as a concept here at The Declination. I am certainly one of the originators of the term. And so it is quite fascinating to see the author of this book, and the responses in this article, using a very similar phrasing. If a white person is defensive he is, by her own words, a kind of racial bully. The tears are offensive weapons. The hurt feelings are offensive weapons. But let’s explore a little more here.
We white people make it so difficult for people of color to talk to us about our inevitable—but often unaware—racist patterns and assumptions that, most of the time, they don’t. People of color working and living in primarily white environments take home way more daily indignities and slights and microaggressions than they bother talking to us about because their experience consistently is that it’s not going to go well. In fact, they’re going to risk more punishment, not less. They’re going to now have to take care of the white person’s upset feelings. They’re going to be seen as a troublemaker. The white person is going to withdraw, defend, explain, insist it had to have been a misunderstanding.
If you make an accusation, the accused gets to have his own say in the matter. Justice is not one person making an accusation, and everyone else immediately agreeing with him and not giving the accused an opportunity to defend himself. If I make an accusation, I expect the accused to defend himself. This applies even when I know he’s in the wrong! The author implies that a person defending himself, explaining his actions, and suggesting whatever happened was a misunderstanding is not engaging in acceptable behavior. Only admission of guilt is acceptable. But let’s continue.
There’s a question that’s never failed me in this work to uncover how racism keeps reproducing itself despite all of the evidence we like to give for why it couldn’t be us. And that question isn’t, “Is this true or is this false: Was the person’s intention good or not?” We’re never going to be able to come to an agreement on intentions. You cannot prove somebody’s intentions. They might not even know their intentions. And if they weren’t good, they’re probably not going to admit that. The question I ask is, “How does this function?” The impact of the action is what is relevant.
There is an interesting omission here. Do you see it? We don’t know a person’s intentions with certainty, that is true, though this has not stopped legal proceedings from finding evidence for a motive, and for ruling on such cases. However, note that the defender’s testimony is dismissed as irrelevant because intentions cannot be proven, but thus far in the article, we have not once made similar questions of the accuser’s motives! This is extremely important, because the demand for racist activity far outstrips the supply. This is why we have seen so many hate crime hoaxes of late, including the very public Jussie Smollett affair, but also lesser “crimes” like the Mizzou poop swastika, the receipt with vague racist crap scribbled on it, and others.
A person who claims to be a victim of such an affair is, like the receipt faker, often doing it for social media attention. Posts of sympathy are many. A person makes the evening news, and maybe boosts his failing career. The media eats these affairs up! It’s crack cocaine to a journalist, and people know this. But the author of this piece doesn’t even mention the possibility of a false accusation, and hammers homes a focus on the accused.
Foundationally [we] have to change our idea of what it means to be racist. As long as you define a racist as an individual who intentionally is mean, based on race, you’re going to feel defensive. When I say you’ve been shaped by a racist system—that it is inevitable that you have racist biases and patterns and investments—you’re going to feel offended by that. You will hear it as a comment on your moral character. You’re going to feel offended by that if you don’t change how you’re interpreting what I just said. And I would actually agree with anyone who felt offended when I say, “It is inevitable that you are racist,” if their definition of a racist is someone who means harm.
Note the first sentence. We need to change our idea (the definition) of what the word means. Here we see Progressive thought laid bare: we change the definition of a word or concept. The author is not just admitting that they do this, she is demanding that we be complicit in this change. Note the dictionary definition:
Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
Note the word “directed” used here. This implies intent, especially when combined with “based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” So to be a racist, you must believe in the superiority of your own race, and direct some form of antagonism or discrimination intentionally toward a person of another race. The author is telling us to change this definition so that her entire book makes sense, because otherwise it’s a form of meaningless nonsense. For her position to be internally coherent we must change the meaning of our own language. She’s telling you this, straight up!
Change how you understand what it means to be racist, and then act on that understanding. Because if you change your understanding, but you don’t do anything different, then you’re colluding.
And now comes the threat. Change the definition, or you’re a traitor/colluder/heretic/whatever. Distilled to its most simplistic form, obey me, or I will call you a mean name. Now many Rightists will scoff and laugh at this. Don’t. Leftists use this tactic because it works on at least some people. Here’s the real weaponization. Obey, or I will apply social peer pressure to you, racist.
In fact, white people measure the value of our schools and neighborhoods by the absence of people of color.
I know exactly what a “good” school is, and I know what we’re talking about. We all know what we’re talking about when we say “good school” versus “bad school.” We use race to measure those things. And now, you take the product of that conditioning, that segregation, that narrow story, and you put that teacher in a position to socialize everyone’s children—and that is a critical piece of [the] school-to-prison pipeline.
The first portion of this bit is actually correct, to at least some degree. Let’s be more specific, however. She uses the term “people of color”, but this doesn’t really work. There are few people bothered by the presence of, say, some Japanese kids or something. Is anybody really worrying about Chinese kids, or Cuban kids? It’s not “people of color” folks worry about (and note that said Japanese, Cuban, and Chinese kids are just as worried as the white kids, if not much more so). It’s much more specific than that. It’s mostly blacks that people worry about. That is the elephant in the room here, that has both Conservatives and Liberals tied up in politically-correct tongue twisters like “people of color” and such, because they can obfuscate the truth behind the idea that people are running in fear from Chinatown or something.
Why is that? Racism? Jim Crow? Or is it rational behavior?
The statistics on black crime are staggeringly bad. And here I am using a source, The Prison Policy Initiative, that is not friendly to my political views (intentionally). People of all races – blacks included – know this. They see first-hand, in many cases, how bad majority-black schools really are. Has the author ever been to Detroit? Washington DC (outside the nice parts)? There is a wealthy black family in my neighborhood. I was told, in polite language, that they left the ghetto they grew up in for good reason. Deep down, blacks know this is true. This is after spending in Detroit schools was elevated to near the highest spending per student in the country. The supposed-racists threw a lot of money at this problem. I suppose they are still guilty, though, right?
Either the statistics are true, and blacks commit crimes at a much higher per-capita rate than any other ethnicity in America, or a lot of people are being falsely convicted. As in most of them. The latter is not very likely. Now, argue all you want on why these things are true. But do not spin this as a “people of color” thing when it clearly isn’t. It is much more specific than that. Tell me, how many of you – even Liberals who found their way here to drop me some hate mail – want to live in a majority-black neighborhood in Detroit?
I don’t call myself a white ally. I’m involved in anti-racist work, but I don’t call myself an anti-racist white. And that’s because that is for people of color to decide, whether in any given moment I’m behaving in anti-racist ways. And notice that that keeps me accountable. It’s for them to determine if in any given moment—it’s not a fixed location—I haven’t made it or arrived. …
Again she tells us that only the accuser’s perspective matters. This is a recipe for complete submission.
Read the rest if you like. But now let’s compare to another piece, this one recommended by Fr. Brendon Laroche. The title is instructive: Liberalism Is Failing Because It Rejected Orthodox Christianity. This piece is a reflection on a book The Lost History of Liberalism. Full disclosure, I have not read this book, I have only read the rebuttal. But that in itself is interesting enough. Let’s begin.
A similar sense of gloom hovers over Helena Rosenblatt’s recent book, The Lost History of Liberalism. Rosenblatt presents her work as a history of those who have called themselves liberal through the centuries. More accurately described, however, it is her attempt to redefine liberalism’s founding in order to rescue it from the worrisome future toward which it seems to be headed. Liberalism was founded on commitments to duty, patriotism, self-sacrifice, and the other virtues that guide humanity’s use of freedom, she notes. But contemporary liberals are trading their birthright for an untenable pottage of rights talk and anarchic freedom that lacks solid grounding.
Rosenblatt foresees disaster at the end of that path, and her book is a call from within the liberal tradition to turn back. That alone is worth a cheer.
Indeed, I do welcome liberals who are willing to point out the flaws in liberalism to talk. There are flaws in conservatism, Libertarianism, and other Right-ish beliefs. I will readily admit them. Indeed, a friend of mine who is more Rightist than I am (he absolutely knows who he is) has frequently pointed out where I and others become too tribal in Rightist thinking. Certainly, it has irritated me on occasion, but he is correct to do this. That is Proverbs 27:17 at work. Also, Tom Kratman has frequently challenged my foundations as well, something I do appreciate quite sincerely. And so I do understand that it takes a certain measure to critique your own belief systems at this level. Let’s continue.
Rosenblatt’s central claim, however, is that the word “liberalism” has a strong historical connection to moral virtue. Although virtue has fallen into obscurity in contemporary liberalism, Rosenblatt argues that it needs to be recovered because it is essential to the liberal project.
I am not so certain of this. The idea of the Classical Liberal is a more Rightish thing. But again, I haven’t read her book, so I would need to see the claim in more specificity, and certainly the terms have been muddied and poorly-defined for some time, now. Nonetheless there is some kind of truth to this in the more modern sense. Liberals today are quite obsessed with signalling moral virtue. So it is possible their thought-lineage originates from a place where the moral virtue was more than just a mere signalling of tribal membership and a sort of assumed humility contest. Perhaps over time, the real moral virtue was replaced with the false one. It’s plausible, at least.
There follows a lot of exposition and rebuttals of Rosenblatt’s claim, which I will skip over for purposes of this post, but do give it a read. It is important.
Continental liberals believed that republican self-rule required the people to be educated in moral and civic virtue. In fact, at least in the early years, they seem to have agreed on little else. For many years, liberalism in France and Germany was a grab bag of political projects and policies. Still, these liberals always shared a commitment to republican forms of government founded on a civic virtue inculcated in the populace. They distrusted or even opposed pure democracy as little more than mob rule (although they recognized, especially thanks to Tocqueville, the inevitability of democracy’s rise). Only virtuous citizens, they reasoned, could navigate between the extremes of reactionary royalism and radical democratic revolution. A combination of democratic institutions with the more aristocratic emphasis on virtue would ennoble democracy and prevent the return of the exhausted ancien régime.
But how are citizens to be fitted with the virtue that republican government requires? This question brings us to the second important contribution of this book, and its most curious feature. Liberals concluded that the answer to this question was religion—Christianity, to be specific. Not the Christianity of the Catholic Church, which liberals regarded as the problem; and not the Christianity of orthodox Protestants, either: they, too, had often sided against democratic forces during the French Revolution. Early liberals needed a new theology for the new man at the dawn of a new age.
Here it is worth pausing to note what happened. Titanic figures in liberalism’s history, such as Benjamin Constant, explicitly asserted that liberal forms of government would stand or fall on the success of religion’s moralizing force. For liberalism, religion became good because of its usefulness for politics and not because of its truth. Liberalism instrumentalized religion, subverting it to “higher” political purposes.
Here is where things get interesting. Note that at the end we are given the idea, by the author of the article, that Liberalism used religion in a cynical manner. Voltaire famously encapsulated this with his quotation: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” The full text of the verse it appears in is below:
If the heavens, stripped of his noble imprint,
Could ever cease to attest to his being,
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Let the wise man announce him and kings fear him.
Kings, if you oppress me, if your eminencies disdain
The tears of the innocent that you cause to flow,
My avenger is in the heavens: learn to tremble.
Such, at least, is the fruit of a useful creed.
Such, at least, is the fruit of a useful creed. If we account him a Liberal – and I’m not sure that makes sense in a modern context, but let’s provisionally entertain the idea that Liberal thought-lineage descended from something like this for a moment – this would mean that Liberalism found Christianity useful, possibly irrespective of whether or not it was true. Why is that? And, more interestingly, why would modern Liberals abandon this notion and, quite frequently, scoff at the “stupid Sky Wizard believers” and their antiquated, and potentially racist notions?
I wonder – and this is personal speculation – if it isn’t because Christianity posits that God knows your heart. He knows if your charity is sincere, or if it is for personal status signalling. He knows your intentions. If the author of the White Fragility piece believed in a neutral arbiter who knew your heart, your true intentions, that would change things, wouldn’t it? If her intentions are bad, God knows! And if the accused racist had good intentions, He knows that too! The avenger in the heavens, as Voltaire phrased it, is ready to deliver his righteous fury.
Consider the possibility that belief in God restrained Liberals from doing too much “good” in the name of moral virtue, and shamed those who “sounded the trumpets before them” as in Matthew 6:2. A useful creed indeed!
Rosenblatt’s discernment of this remarkable turn may be the most valuable contribution of the book, yet she does not emphasize it. In fact, she discusses liberalism’s treatment of religion in bits and pieces, scattered throughout the text for the reader to assemble for herself. The upshot of these disconnected observations is that one of liberalism’s greatest successes was to domesticate Christianity, very cleverly, to make it safe for liberal politics. Instead of violently confronting Christian believers, or co-opting Christian figures (tactics that had been tried throughout history by Roman emperors, medieval kings, Enlightenment democrats, and countless others), liberalism colonized Christianity itself.
Bingo! I don’t know that modern Christianity’s essence would be all that recognizable to Christians a thousand years ago because of this colonization. Certainly many of the rituals and catechisms would be recognizable. In fact, as I study Catholicism I am surprised by how little has changed, in that respect. But step outside the trappings of the faith for a moment and look at it from a cultural perspective.
I read a piece many years ago which I tried very hard to find today, but failed. Nonetheless, perhaps a reader of mine may have more success. It was about a historian studying the Black Madonna in France. He discussed the Christianity that created it. How Christ as a baby was wise, but harsh. This wasn’t a happy child, this was the child with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Madonna was a hard woman, focused. Brave. The culture of the time was forged in dirt, grime, and war. Their Christianity was illiberal. The Madonna of later periods was soft, the baby Jesus more child-like (though never fully so). The resilience and hardness was lost. In the end, the historian, who had been contemplating conversion to Catholicism, decided he did not care much for the softer modern church, though he noted the older church might have won him over.
I don’t know how true it really is, as it was one man’s anecdote (though the style changes of the Madonna over time lends itself somewhat to his position) and in this portion I am rambling a bit. But again, it strikes me as plausible that the form of nascent Liberalism present during the Enlightenment did indeed colonize Christianity, and to some extent change its essence in some fashion.
But one group of liberals deliberately set out to remake Christianity from within by developing a radical, new theology, new interpretations of scripture, new publications, and new churches. They succeeded remarkably in gaining adherents. Instead of trying to convert people overnight from Catholicism or orthodox Protestantism to secular humanism and its “pure light of reason” (as French historian Edgar Quinet called it), political liberals used liberal Protestantism as a halfway point from which to pry Christians away from dogma.
Now I don’t know how much of this occurred in Voltaire’s time, but this is definitely true of modern Liberalism, which has overridden tradition and dogma in many churches, including some particularly noteworthy examples like openly gay bishops and pro-abortion views from some churches (here’s an example).
The novelty of the liberal approach was the way it changed the Church from within, via its theology. Today’s young Christians practice what sociologist Christian Smith has described as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a faith whose history stretches back to the French and German thinkers of the early liberal movement. They developed a new method to bring Christianity to heel and shore up liberal politics, simultaneously.
I’ve spoken on this matter before. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a very watered down descendant of Christianity, though not really a form of Christianity itself. Consider it as an intermediate stage between fedora-equipped “brights” and skin-suited churches like the mainline Episcopalians.
They retained the parts of Christianity that spurred people to improve themselves and inculcate civic virtues, but sheared off the strong doctrinal claims that divided society and relativized the state’s authority. They wanted a religion that fitted their practical, political aims. The German Johann Semler coined the term “liberal theology” in 1774 to describe a way of reading the Bible that persuaded him (and other scholars) that Christianity’s core was moral, not dogmatic.
Here is where this piece connects to the first fisk. You see, from dogma – and my instruction in Catholicism – I have clearly-outlined duties, and there are clearly-outlined consequences for failing in them. There is a success condition, and repentance, and forgiveness. Modern Liberalism lacks all of these mechanisms. The White Fragility author talks of microaggressions as if they were grave offenses. Why? Because she lacks a success condition. She must always find new and ever more granular expressions of racism, because she has no defined success condition, nor does she appear to desire one (consciously, anyway).
The accused are guilty, and they are always guilty, and they can never not be guilty. There is no forgiveness. Repentance doesn’t matter, because your intentions don’t matter. Her desired definition for racism is, in effect, Original Sin, except lacking all of the dogmatic success conditions upon which your sins can be forgiven, and you can be made whole. She wants to define the word racism this way. But you can find similar arguments on sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc…
There is no set of duties to absolve you of the guilt. The guilt is forever, and constant, and neither your intentions (which are dismissed as irrelevant) nor your actions (you’re still subconsciously racist) absolve you.
What was designed as a political-theological project to modernize religion and moderate democratic politics has proven to be exceedingly fragile. The liberal political settlement is rapidly fraying, and its theological component has collapsed.
One can easily sympathize with Rosenblatt’s anxiety over the future of the liberal project, which once seemed so promising. However, because she overlooks the most important implications of her work, she misdiagnoses the root cause of the failure of liberalism: its rejection of the kind of Christianity on which it depends. From its earliest days, some of its strongest proponents have recognized that liberalism on its own lacks the resources to form the kind of citizens it requires.
Voltaire was wise enough to understand that, whatever his belief system really was at its core, he still needed God at some level. Humanity still needed God. Nietzsche told us that God was dead, and by implication, that it was the Enlightenment that killed Him. For one, I believe God is still there, but even independent of that thought, the first wave of the Enlightenment did not try such a deed. That was for the successors in the Liberal tradition to attempt.
And where they have succeeded, where they have stripped away the divine, removed dogma, and destroyed the success conditions upon our moral duties, they have left us with only an invented moral preening, a virtue signalling so bereft of meaning and utility it must openly rewrite our very own language to disguise its nature as futile nonsense. It features no redemption, no hope of success. Ray Bradbury warned us of the Autumn People, that they would “frenzy forth”, and now I take his meaning. They have no purpose but to signal their status, but in this they whip themselves into a frenzy. Cut those racist dreadlocks, white boy. You are guilty. We need no trial, no defense. Only the accusation ever mattered, and even there, the intent is meaningless.
One SJW explained that Elon Musk was a racist because he launched his car into space and didn’t spend the money on Flint’s water supply, as if it was his duty to attend to such matters, and not that of another, like say the duly elected government charged with the job. Why could she make such an absurd claim, and why would it stick with many Lefties? Because they have no success condition, no list of moral duties, nothing to benchmark anything against. Only accusations, which are proof of guilt, matter at all.
You, dear reader, did you donate all of your wealth to some Liberal political cause? No? You are guilty! All it takes is one accusation!
Sound your moral trumpets before you, for surely you are holier than thou, yes?
Ask a modern Liberal: “what duties must I fulfill, upon which I may be judged as having satisfied my moral responsibility?” Most will respond with vague platitudes. Save the world from Climate Change (I can’t do this, supposing their notion of what this means is even true), end racism (they told me this can categorically never happen), etc, etc… Their lack of dogma leads them to wander a twisted moral landscape with no compass, no grounding, until they are spouting absurdities about tri-gender gay 3 year olds, because somebody, somewhere, accused someone who was against it of unforgivable sin. Remember, only the accusation matters.
Liberalism disconnected with Christianity over time. And the more it did so, the more it lost that grounding. Almost none of it remains today. As such, we are all sinners – that is the one point which survived the ideological culling – but there is no redemption to be had. The guilt is forever, racist.
The misery of such an existence is hard to fathom. For the first time in a long time, I almost pity them.