This will be my final Post in this little mini-series.
You may want to take a look at Corey Robin’s article in ‘The Nation’ entitled “The First Counterrevolutionary” here; Robin is reviewing a book about Hobbes and the concept of republican liberty.
I’m not going to get into Hobbes at length but the discussion brings up some essential elements of the (take your pick here) ‘old’, ‘oppressive’, ‘abstract’, ‘logocentric’, ‘hierarchical’, ‘dead white male’ philosophical assumptions which formed the conceptual foundations of the complex structure of the American vision and of Constitutional government.
It is precisely these foundations that the radical-feminist agenda had to destroy in order for their ‘revolution’ to “vanquish” all before it (and as you saw in Part 1 that’s what the graying cadres and their nomenklatura would now like everybody to accept as Mission Accomplished! and congratulate them for).
As I have said, the entire methodology of ripping out foundations while expecting the huge building built upon them to stay up … is kind of unwise if not an indication of incompetence or insanity.
But then, revolutionary propaganda solves that problem neatly by insisting that there is nothing ‘solid’ and that everything is up for (political) grabs because there is no ‘nature’ to anything or anybody and so everybody can do whatever they want and be whatever they want (so long as they don’t violently oppress anybody else) – although those with the political clout to use the law to send the Correct message can exercise such violence, although then it isn’t ‘violent’ in a physical sense so then it’s all a matter of ‘perception’, and there are Correct perceptions and there are the perceptions of those ‘who just don’t get it’, and it’s never bad to suppress those latter.
The profoundly damaging violence to the conceptual bases of the entire complex structure of a civilization, which is rooted as much in beliefs and assumptions as it is in any material elements such as monuments, laws, and bricks and such … well, that’s not violence in the revolutionary sense that’s been used among Us for the past few decades, and even if it is, it’s all in a good cause and the revolutionistas meant well.
But human beings are creatures with an inescapable and profound need for belief – and those are not ‘material’ things that you can see or put an address to. ‘Concepts’ and the thinking and deliberation that constructs them are the only human artifacts and tools (immaterial though they may be) that can operate in this vital if immaterial dimension of human being and human affairs.
Who are we? What should we hope for? What ought we to do? Why are we here? Who cares about us? These are questions that are never far from the hearts, if not the minds, of human beings. To imagine that they are merely childish blather is to do the child’s mind a great disservice and to utterly underestimate the way in which the human self ‘works’.
And these questions are not simply a matter of ‘opinion’ or ‘perception’ – some may more accurately reflect the actual nature of reality. Sort of like the laws of thermodynamics and physics kinda accurately reflect what (little) We know about the material world around Us. So whether or not there is ‘gravity’ – say – is not really just a matter of ‘perception’, and great undertakings based on the inaccurate belief in this regard will not go very far before failing and causing a lot of damage.
Of course, the revolutionistas’ counter this with the assertion that there is no ‘nature’ to anything (except, it would seem, that ‘men’ are oppressive and violent and either always will be or will be at least for the next few centuries or millennia). But if you try to sail an airplane across the ocean, or fly a cruise-ship at an altitude of 37,000 feet you’re going to find out that while both types of vessel are possessed of remarkable capabilities and even some real versatility, the ship cannot fly through the air and the plane cannot sail through the water.
If that sounds a little simplistic, yet it goes to the heart of the almost cartoonish ‘justifications’ for the admittedly successful revolution of radical-feminism in the past few decades.
And it is a credit to that revolution’s propaganda success (drawing upon the work of such great – and male – practitioners as Edward Bernays and Josef Goebbels) and the tortured and addled complicity of much of the political and media and professional academic communities – which should have known better. But subverting ‘elites’ is one of the goals of a revolution, especially in a functioning democracy where you’re not actually going to be using guns for a shoot-fest (thus unlike the early Reds and somewhat like the Nazi subversion and overthrow of Weimar).
So if you’re going to simply rip out the conceptual foundations of a culture and perhaps a civilization – either by claiming that they have no real claim on authority or that they simply don’t exist and that only the power of ‘politics’ exists – then you’re heading into awful and tortured territory, and perhaps want to think about Mao being so absolutely sure that his “Hundred Flowers” revolutions during the awesome frakfest that was the era 1966-1976 in China would be another Great Leap Forward. Alas, It turned out to be something far more sinister and lethal, with grave consequences for Chinese culture as well as their polity.
The conceptual underpinning of both the Medieval and Renaissance Humanist worldviews was that there was a sufficiently (though incompletely) known natural order to existence: there was God on the highest dimension or plane of existence; then there was the material plane of this world’s existence, which God had created along with human beings.
Human beings were a curious blend of the material and the non-material; they were immersed in this dimension, yet they also somehow retained the capacity to be aware of and participate to some extent in the activity of that higher dimension.
Inside the human being, there was also a hierarchy of abilities: there was the ability to relate to the Divine, which was called the ‘soul’; there was the ability to think and deliberate and to reason things out and get at least a modest concept of the order of things in the universe; additionally there was the ability to ‘feel’, not so much ‘the emotions’ of ‘feeling’ that We would call them today but rather the Passions – the great sweeps of emotion, powerful and visceral, that rage over the human being from time to time like great storms on a forming planet, bypassing the higher brain competences. And these Passions are somehow intimately connected to the most characteristic and powerful human desires: for security, for food, for sex.
(Remarkably, later study of the brain revealed that the human brain is comprised of three elements: the oldest is the ancient brain shared even with reptiles, seat of some of the most basic but also the most primitive human functioning; then there is a brain shared with the mammals which mimics much of animal and primate behavior; and then there is the relatively large prefrontal cortex, unique to humans and the seat of its most advanced capacities: deliberation, tolerance of ambiguity, postponement of gratification, empathy … the exercise of these skills (once an individual achieves some level of mastery of the brain-capabilities) is tied into this marvelous brain part, and much of humans’ long period of maturing is the result of the long slow physical maturation of this part of the brain.
And it is the mastery of the capabilities and powers of this part of the brain that require the maturing of the human individual which is the goal of any advanced civilization, organizing itself around the tasks of ensuring that its members are able to exercise some effective level of competence in the energies and skills of their most advanced and most uniquely human capacities. So the earlier eras of human history weren’t quite so wide of the mark in many profound ways.)
The purpose and goal of the human religiously and spiritually was to hone and seat the relationship with God.
The purpose and goal of the Enlightenment era’s ideal human was to exercise a mastery over him/herself in all of those marvelous but also dangerous potentials, trying to be less ‘reptilian’ driven and more ‘prefrontally’ driven, it might be put nowadays; operating out of the ‘higher’ and more uniquely and genuinely ‘human abilities and according to the higher ‘human’ guidelines rather than out of the ‘lower’ reptilian modalities, which were less modulated, less subject to the input of reason and thought and communal deliberation.
It was this type of ‘prefrontal’ individual – if I may – who was the ideal Citizen of the Enlightenment dream, and why the Framers supported education, and presumed the indispensability of family and marriage and parenting as utterly necessary to helping the human infant on its long and iffy climb to genuine competence in all its unique powers and potentials.
Further, the human had not only a Mind (seat of the reason and the prefrontal abilities of analysis and deliberation) but those Passions, and those Passions could hijack Desire and Will (the ability to choose and decide) action. So the human – much as Plato saw it – was like a charioteer, having to control a team of horses pulling the chariot of the individual self: Reason, Passions, Desire and Will. As with any multi-horse team, the driver (the human ‘self’ or ‘soul’) had to achieve mastery over getting the best mix out of the specific qualities of each horse in his/her team, while at the same time avoiding any individual horse’s dangerous potentials from throwing the whole thing out of whack.
None of this was considered anything less than the primary human drama, and a hefty one it was. (Religion, of course, would say that this mastery must then also be put in the service of the relationship to God, which added another layer of challenge to the entire task of maturation.)
It is hard to see how anybody growing up with such a vision of Self and Existence could be too bored.
Without a culture and a civilization dedicated to this type of mastery and ‘fulfillment’, then the Framers’ vision and the Constitution they constructed and the democratic politics and the Constitutional Republic they erected would not be able to maintain the ability to cohere and to function. Everything – conceptually – was built on a mature human individual, not an In Your Face overgrown child who imagines that ignoring ‘old’ stuff is ‘brilliant knowledge’.
Were there slaves? Were females to some extent and in some ways popularly presumed not to ‘need’ to do this? Yes. No era is perfect (and the Southrons let it be known right off in no uncertain terms: no slaves, no United States).
But that’s what history is for, and what a democratic politics is for: making things better. Turning the Great Ship without ripping her apart.
What I am going for here is that you will never make the building better by ripping out its foundations, and you will never make the ship more ‘flexible’ by ripping out its essential frames.
Which is what the ‘revolution’ has done. If this country let its industrial infrastructure just slip away* it literally and verrry purposely ‘deconstructed’ its conceptual infrastructure in a sustained, decades-long, government-abetted assault on its own foundations. This is not only a consequence of the radical-feminist ‘revolution’; it is and always has been a stated objective at the outset (later given benefit of philosophy by the Multicultural assertion that there is no ‘American’ culture anyway and there never should be).
And equally bad, the ‘revolution’ has unmoored the young and all the Citizenry from any sense of Meaning and Purpose. The ‘personal agency’ of radical-feminism is merely a Flattened, one-dimensional, purely political to-do list that cannot address the deepest human need for Meaning and Purpose. As Tocqueville noted, a genuine religion saves us from the degradation of self-absorption and frees humans for the free and dignified performance of common moral duties.
And I doubt many young people today even understand themselves – as human beings and for the purposes of developing a sense of personal mastery. And without the personal mastery, then the ‘personal agency’ which is the totem and icon of the feminist agenda becomes simply a bigger engine on a powerboat with no steering gear and an operator who has no idea how the whole thing is supposed to operate or his/her role in the process. This will not make for safe boating.
If it’s difficult enough to explain to youth that they may be on the wrong track, it’s even worse if you have a national ‘philosophy’ (limpidly expressed in Casey by the Supreme Court) that there is no ‘track’ at all, except what you want it to be. Would you get on a ship or plane whose captain lived by that 'philosophy'?
And generations of students now have had no guiding image of the human being, let alone any idea of how such a marvelous contraption works or is supposed to work. Yet they have been told and told that once they were ‘oppressed’ but that now they’re freeeeeeee! What efficacious meaning can that proclamation possibly have in the context of the general, imposed ‘deconstruction’ of any fundamental or comprehensive sense of what a human being is or is about or is for?
Worse: the political slavery which in Hobbes’s day was ascribed to any people not politically free but rather subject to the orders of a monarch or any sort of centralized and all-powerful public authority, was considered by ‘traditional’ thinkers of that era as secondary to the individual slavery of a person ruled by his/her Passions, a person incapable of mastering the various dynamic aspects of the self (and perhaps also unguided by any God Who provided the ultimate source of Meaning, Purpose, and (in the Christian vision) Consolation and Assistance as well.
And of course, if you have a society that is presumed primarily or most significantly to be comprised of ‘victims’ and ‘predators’, then an authoritarian government will be required to save the helpless and passive victims from the predators. And for the ‘victims’ to consider themselves ‘active’ simply by virtue of their vigorously calling up the spirit of authoritarian government … is unwise in the extreme.
So it would be useless to imagine a political liberty that was not based on the individual freedom (from ‘slavery to the Passions and lower brain-parts, as it were) of each of the citizens. Again, such a political liberty among such an ‘unfree’ or internally-enslaved bunch of individuals would simply be – to use a modern image – like sending unskilled drivers out onto the highways with the ‘absolute right’ to operate increasingly powerful motor vehicles. (So I’m saying here that drivers needing to be licensed – and theoretically educated and trained to a certain level of competence to get the license – is really a good idea. And the opposite is not.)
Political liberty would not work if there was not an interior freedom of the individual citizens who had mastered their human capabilities and energies. As Marilynne Robinson notes somewhere recently, “the spirit of political liberty – the ennobling activity of its citizens – depends on the spirit of religion”. If that’s true then the current American political and cultural posture and trajectory have been heading in the wrong direction for quite some time – and many seem to think that it’s a good idea and constitutes progress. Oy.
So much has been overthrown by the radical-feminist revolution, in conjunction with such philosophical theories as ‘deconstruction’ and the sustained propagandistic pressure for public opinion to be formed not on the higher competences of reason and deliberation but on the lower and more primal Passions. A stampede may move faster than a 20-mule team or a wagon train, but it’s not going to necessarily get much accomplished. Except destruction, and not a very ‘creative’ destruction either.
Hobbes himself, looking to justify the power of the sovereign and all-powerful government, had to get around this and make things easier. So he simply re-defined ‘freedom’ as the absence of external restraint to whatever it is that the individual wants to do. If you were not ‘restrained’ or ‘blocked’ then you were free; and if not, not.
Neat and simple. But hugely inadequate to the human reality.
And if there is no interiority, no self-awareness nor sense of the dramatic and urgent stage of human action required within the person, then internal mastery and the freedom that it brings from behaving in less-than-mature, more reptilian and mammalian ways (those brain parts, you recall) then simply removing all external restraints isn’t going to provide much genuine and authentic freedom; it’s simply going to lead to a crash-fest out on the public ways.
This, alas, was what the Boomers and Mao thought was going to be a Hundred Flowers and a Hundred Revolutions “blooming”. And it would, both the Boomers and Mao thought, lead only to a lot more ‘goodness’ (though Mao and the Boomers would have differed on what ‘goodness’ is).
And this is very much the tack taken by the radical-feminist revolution: simply declaring that ‘women’ (or by implication any human being, though they themselves only evince sustained concern for ‘women’) can be whatever they want to be (see the previous two Posts in this series) and nobody can tell them anything about what’s right or wrong, wise or unwise. And this is what the radical-feminists are now ‘celebrating’ as a total “victory” in which they “vanquished” the old fuddy-duddy stuff.
So this is like the Naval Academy throwing away the books and all knowledge of how ships work and what responsible officers are supposed to do aboard them, and just send forth scads of graduates who have been assured that they are wonderful just for being themselves and that there is only boundless and infinitely plastic ‘opportunity’ ahead of them. Out there on the deep? On a dark and stormy night? With bad (or at least misguided) people shooting exploding things at you?
The ‘academy’ of American civilization and culture has been made to do the same thing. I doubt it will yield much more good fruit for the civilization than it will for the military.
I think that they have simply set a whole lot of unmastered folks (not that young males now are any more skilled, since the entire culture has been regressively damaged and it has affected all youth and has now for decades) loose on the public ways. This is a political catastrophe in the making, as well as a profoundly human catastrophe.
Because Hobbes then figured that in order to have the power to remove all ‘obstacles’ from everybody in order to achieve a wider and more complete ‘freedom’, you needed an all-powerful government to enforce the removal of such ‘obstructions’.
And this is frakking hell and gone from the American Constitutional vision. Which – I assert – is precisely why We have seen so much Constitutional failure spreading into all levels of political and legal affairs now, as well as so much confusion – lethally so – in any sort of ‘moral’ guidance and reasoned deliberation.
And why the post-9/11 argument about government power over Constitutional rights has continued to fail. After all, long before 9/11 the entire Constitutional infrastructure was ‘deconstructed’ in the pursuit of the radical-feminist “victory”.
And this has not received the sustained, serious, and truly urgent examination it deserves.
Let me add this thought: the Russian Revolution, please recall, was actually the one that took place in March, 1917. It dethroned the Tsar and the monarchy, and brought in Kerensky who was trying to start a form of democratic government centered on the Duma, the nascent national legislative assembly.
But then there was a second revolution in October of 1917, the “October Revolution” (hence the term “Red October”) in which the Communists, who were convinced that they and only they had the real key to a “workers’ paradise”, overthrew the Kerensky government and its nascent democracy and imposed Communism.
I think that something of the same thing happened here. In the matter of women’s rights, the genuine political achievement was women getting the vote in 1920. Thus equipped women were now empowered to participate in democratic politics, and with the putative power of their collective vote, then changes on their behalf could be effected according to the canons of democratic process.
But then in the revolution-addled later Sixties, a revolutionary ‘feminism’ – mostly of the radical variety – pulled off a second revolution. And it was hell and gone from democratic politics, bearing instead all the characteristics of a putsch or a Long March designed to impose their visions on America and Americans, men and women alike. In my whimsical moments I think of it as a Klatschkrieg, where the cadres who ‘got it’ gathered around tables not to deliberate the conceptual integrity, coherence, and consequential probabilities of their agenda, but simply to plot and ‘strategize’ how to grab political power and do what they thought was best for themselves (and, as all revolutions assume) what was best for everybody, though many of those upon whom it would be imposed ‘just didn’t get it’, and were merely ‘ignorant’ and ‘backlashing’ masses. How Lenin! How Mao!
And a vote-addled Congress and a sensation-starved media went along, in far far too many instances. And still do. What’s ‘philosophy’ when weighed against the power of a huge and reliable voting bloc? What is ‘conceptual integrity’ when weighed against a nice, vivid ‘good vs. evil revolution for liberation’ that promises to provide gripping and simple-to-tell stories for the next umpty years?
Let Us not be deceived by ‘hindsight bias’: that oft-made mistake in analysis by which humans presume that what ‘is’ always had to be. The second, October revolution did not ‘have to’ come about. Ditto the radical-feminist revolution cannot hide behind the sly verbiage that since it ‘happened’ then it must have been ‘what was supposed to happen’. Nope. Both revolutions made it into the books because dedicated cadres decided to impose them, and persons who might have stood up for something else did not.
The Russians of autumn 1917 might be forgiven for not having a sufficiently robust and informed grasp of ‘democracy’ and ‘liberty’; they had only a few months before emerged from an ancient monarchy. But the American political elites in the 1970s? They can hardly make the same defense – at least, not without indicting themselves.
And here We are.
And make no mistake about it: gooey burbles to the effect that if anything the Sixties were the fruit of an “excess of democracy” is baloney. The ‘revolutions’ were indeed that – revolutions, spear-headed by the radical-feminist revolution: they were specifically intended – in content and method – to undermine the foundations of American ‘culture’ (it was ‘patriarchal’ and ‘oppressive’).
That there was no thought given to the intensely vital, almost-organic links between the most genuine traditional root-visions of American culture and the entire ethos of genuine, mature, humanist ‘political liberty’; that there was no thought given to the Flattening thinness of purely political activity as a source of ultimate Meaning and Purpose; that there was no thought given as to whether or how such a ‘revolution’ could be actually justified and then effected … that there was none of this constitutes, I believe, the greatest bad-faith and incompetence on the part of the revolutionistas and their political useful-idiots and fellow-travelers.
The Boomers were repelled by ‘conformity’. They were thinking of an external conformity to ‘outside’ stuff like traditions and folkways and customs, as adolescents will do. But they took no thought as to a certain type of interior conformity that that the individual willingly take upon him/herself: once you have figured out what these human selfs are all about and what they are for and how they work, then you conform yourself, Form your habits of mind and heart to that fundamental blueprint. And get on with conducting a life.
That step was not only missed by decades of youth now, but was utterly tossed out – along with any awareness that the human being has a sort of ‘blueprint’ that helps you get a handle on your self and your life. Which perhaps by now is becoming obvious.
And without a ‘soul’ or a ‘self’, just what is it about a human being that becomes the touchpoint of “inalienable rights”? No God and no soul or self, then just where inside the human do you plant and ground the tree of rights and dignity? And if there are no rights and no dignity written in the living rock of a created human spirit, then why go to the trouble of having a democracy or a Republic at all?
It’s Fall of 2009. Much is being made of the history of 20 years ago, that still stupendous Moment when the peaceful collapse of the Red October Revolution – and all its bloody, deceitful pomps and works and the wrack, wreck, and ruin of innumerable lives and the snuffing out of myriad historical and human possibilities – when the peaceful collapse of that Revolution opened up breath-taking possibilities for the world and for the human community.
At that Moment, this nation, as the ‘winner’ of the Cold War, was in a remarkable position.
But it was distracted by the almost immediate megaplosion of the ‘second revolution’ here, of the radical-feminism that had studied far too well the content and methods of Lenin and Mao (and the propaganda playbook of Goebbels). As they radical-feminists saw, Bush 1 was desperate to please and Clinton was ready to do business anytime and anywhere. **
And although everything was artfully draped in the sheep’s-clothing of ‘liberation’, it all led to a government by manufactured ‘emergency’ fueled by nothing more than ‘fear’ and ‘outrage’ (carefully stoked). And by the ‘deconstruction’ of all the obstructive (and so ‘oppressive’) traditional conceptual foundations that would have – and were purposely designed to – prevent just such Passionate stampedes at the instigation of any group’s demands for ‘utopia’ or ‘paradise’.
This is what the “victory” consists of, more rather than less.
And We and American culture and civilization are thus “vanquished” by the massive self-dissolution of the American ethos that American ‘elites’ have engaged in so intensely.
And come to think of it, didn’t the Beltway go and make that same mistake in Iraq? Having completely imposed its own ‘perceptions’ of the challenges and realities of the situation, it went in – much like the radical-feminist revolutions had been doing for decades over here – and simply figured to impose its solutions – and without a moment’s delay. I think you could make a good case that the radical-feminist frakkery – self-serving, highly-selective ‘explanations’ that conveniently also ‘proved’ a ‘state of emergency’ – migrated over to the foreign affairs folks. Which of course nowadays meant the foreign wars folks.
And, if I read the tea leaves correctly, the radical-feminists and their spawn now seek to support the government that has been so good to them: We have to keep up these wars because they will improve the condition of ‘women’ over there (wherever that ‘there’ may at the moment be).
Apparently though, the ‘patriarchs’ and ‘oppressors’ scattered thickly around the world have not caved as easily as they did over here. And their objections have resisted even military force, which – in the absence of any ‘abstractions’ such as Justice and Decency – are pretty much the radical-feminists’ ultimate means of ‘persuasion’.
Funny how the night moves.
And the darkness is growing.
If the financial situation remains unstable, or indeed gets even worse, then corporate capitalism’s natural preference for predictability and order will blend with the awareness of the political class that it will have to impose a more authoritarian ‘democracy’ in order to preserve itself as well as ‘order’. But if that happens, then the skids will already have been greased by a radical-feminist revolution that has for decades now waged a war on this or that version of ‘men’ and conjured the police power of the government ever more deeply into the civic and private life of the nation and the Citizenry.
And at some point, as always, there remains the abiding fear that has haunted big governments since the times of the Chinese Emperors: that you will 'lost the Mandate of Heaven', which is a nice way of saying that the people's belief that you are worth having there in the Imperial City suddenly reaches a tipping point. And when that happens then that sugar-coated human ability to fantasize vital matters (such as politics) ceases to protect your track record with an aura of good-feelings. And when that happens, folks begin to notice that you're not wearing any clothes.
So I’m not breaking out any champagne, with all due respect to every American’s birthright for liberty and freedom.
Democracy, famously, begins at home.
Freedom, not so famously but even more crucially, begins with the self and the individual Citizen. Or else instead of a Citizenry We shall be reduced to a herd, pushed this way and that by an omnipotent sovereign government of those ‘who get it’ – precisely what Hobbes was going for. Precisely what the Framers, knowing a devil when they saw one, rejected.
Let’s use the remaining time – and daylight – well.
*Although Michael Lind opined in a recent Salon article that the Beltway let other nations get assorted pieces of Our industrial capacity as a bribe to allow America to retain the position of economic and military hegemon – and if he’s correct then the level of government treachery makes Vietnam look like a sandbox game.
**It’s interesting in this regard that the radical feminists pulled off a shrewd play in Pentagon circles: the entire women-in-the-military and women-in-combat issue was being strongly resisted on practical military grounds by the Service chiefs; despite efforts by the redical feminists to pack the reporting committee, the recommendation against, backed up by voluminous material, was sent to the President (Bush 1) in late Fall of 1991.
The next day Clinton won and Bush simply sat on the Report. Immediately upon taking office, Clinton forwarded the Report to Congress without comment – though it was a White House Report . Within days of his taking the Oath, ‘suddenly’ the biggest problem facing the military was ‘gays’ – and the women issues – and the radical feminist plan – slid by in the dust cloud generated by the stampede over ‘gays in the military’.
This even though Clinton had been advised by gays-in-the-military advocates that it was too early to bring the subject up. Some commentators think this is just an uncharacteristic political miscalculation by a master politician, but I don’t think so. At a stroke he could tell the gays he had tried and failed; the radical feminists would get the cover of the gay brouhaha to take the focus of any deliberation about their own highly dubious agenda for the military; and the reputed ‘traditional’ and ‘military friendly’ Republicans could claim that they stood tall against gays, (while acquiescing in the feminization of the military). I think Clinton knew exactly what he was doing.
A revolution is a dog-eat-dog thing, even if the dog you eat is theoretically on your side.
So much for a kinder, gentler America and a kinder, gentler, but still competent military organization.