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The theme of The Great Divide is that the populations of the democratic world, from Boston to Berlin, Vancouver to Venice, are becoming increasingly divided from within, due to a growing ideological incompatibility between modern liberalism and conservatism. This is partly due to a complex mutation in the concept of liberal democracy itself, and the resulting divide is now so wide that those holding to either philosophy on a whole range of topics: on democracy, on reason, on abortion, on human nature, on homosexuality and gay marriage, on freedom, on the role of courts … and much more, can barely speak with each other without outrage (the favorite emotional response from all sides). Clearly, civil conversation at the surface has been failing -- and that could mean democracy is failing.

This book is an effort to deepen the conversation. It is written for the non-specialist, and aims to reveal the less obvious underlying ideological forces and misconceptions that cause the conflict and outrage at the surface -- not with any expectation the clash of values will evaporate, but rather that a deeper understanding will generate a more intelligent and civil conversation.

As an aid to understanding, the book contains a handful of Tables directly comparing modern liberal and conservative views across a range of fundamental moral and political “issues” so that curious readers can answer the book’s main question: “Where Do You Stand?” An interesting result in testing this exercise has been the number of people who find they “think” one way, but “live” another.    

 

Good Reading
Essays (37)
Tuesday
Feb282017

White Guilt, Self-Loathing, and the Therapeutic State

This is a continuation of free-thinking about the condition of western culture, and what Paul Gottfried, below, in a book of that name, calls The Menace of Multiculturalism.

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            Most dominant cultures do not end up in self-hate. They fight hard to maintain the authority and control that flow from their deep culture. That is what Rome did for a thousand years. One of the very large questions that historians will soon be trying to answer during what appears to be the clear and present decline of Western civilization, is "Why did the West turn against itself?" One plausible explanations is so-called “White guilt.”

            In an interesting treatment, author Paul Gottfried argues that we have recently traveled from the managerial Welfare State of the first half of the twentieth-century, to the behaviour-and-attitude-controlling Therapeutic State of the present. This may be seen as a secular expression of our earlier Christian-based search for purity of soul and atonement for original sin. Due to the pervasive psychological weight of the latter, some have described all Christian societies as “a guilt culture” (in contrast to the frequent description of Islamic societies as a “blame culture”).  

            The process began with the Protestant Reformation in the early Sixteenth  century. People often think the Reformation was a cry for release from religious authority and control. But it was the opposite. It was a puritanical protest against religious laxity and corruption. People began turning their backs on Church authority, because it wasn't strict enough! Too corrupt. They began turning away from their church-mediated relationship with God, and yearning for an individual relationship with god and for spiritual salvation.

              But  No sooner was this right won, than a call went out for individual political rights, too. In that sense, modern democracy has been recognized by many historians as “a child of the Reformation.”  For a as soon as it was realized that protestant religious fragmentation was producing a multiplicity of sects, a call for toleration arose, and it was not long before the right to an individual relationship with God was translated into an individual right to vote. People began to hear the phrase: "The voice of the people is the voice of God." Hmmm.

              Then over time, as Western society became more secular and religion weakened, the emphasis began to fall on various human-rights crusades. Our present stage of attitude control and “political correctness” is enabled by an increasingly therapeutic State complete with purity-of-behaviour and re-education courses, sensitivity-adjustment units such as Human Rights Commissions (which seek to control, purge, and punish even internal attitudes or impure private thought and speech), and a politicized judiciary that sees its role as the purification of democracy (see chapter Fifteen of The Trouble With Canada ... Still! for actual statements from Canadian judges to this effect).

                 In short, almost overnight the notion of sin as spiritual bad attitude, gave way to political and cultural insensitivity as bad attitude. The ancient search for religious purity and salvation slowly gave way to a yearning for psychic and even bodily purity, for “a mind cleansed of pathological thoughts.” Accompanying all this, we increasingly see an almost fanatical modern emphasis on bodily health, on pure “organic” foods, along with strident calls for environmental-recycling behaviour in all citizens! In no small way, the world-wide concern for cleaning up the garbage in the streets has replaced the prior need to clean up the garbage in the soul. 

Friday
Feb242017

The Diversity Death of the West

    

 

 

 

 

 

I wrote this piece today, after a pro and con discussion about multiculturalism with some close friends

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 The emphasis of  all civilizations until very recently has always been social and cultural cohesion: "university," not "diversity." The Latin word "universitas" referred to "a number of persons associated into one body, a society, company, or community," and was only recently restricted to institutions of higher learning. In short, until very recently, university always meant unity, and the unmistakable goal of every "nation" was to get citizens aligned with its core values. In that context, to preach diversity instead of unity was considered dangerous to the strength of the Nation (from the Latin Natus, "born together").

          That is why the American (and Canadian) goal for all immigrants, until about yesterday, was always "assimilation," a nation-building philosophy still summed up in the Latin phrase seen on US currency: "e Pluribus Unum" (from Many, One).

            Breakdown in support for cultural unity began with the influx of too many immigrants of non-European stock midway through the last century who did not share the same Euro-cultural history, and so who did not care to assimilate to the cultural ethos of the host nation. 

            But the desire for unity is natural and human. We are all generally more comfortable with people who look like us, with raising children who look like us, with neighbours who understand us and share our values, have the same background, morals, and tastes as us, etc.

             Immigrant groups naturally feel this way, too, and so as the core culture got more ethnically diluted, the demand for assimilation to the nation weakened. It was not always weakened by immigrants, mind you. Many immigrants wondered what the hell we were doing encouraging them to stick to the culture of their countries of origin? What were we doing?

             Well, beginning in the 1960s we were filling our "universities" with young people who learned from their radical profs how to hate their own culture. Hate their own unity. Protest eurocentricism, colonial oppression, past slavery, etc. We cranked out millions of little "oikophobes" (Oikos is Greek for "home") - people who hated their own national home. They came out preaching a one-world, anti-euro-cultural philosophy soon to be called "multiculturalism."

                Immigrants loved it. It meant they were no longer expected  to wok at assimilation. Didn't have to learn the language or literature. Didn't have to learn the culture or the political philosophy, etc. Quite the opposite. Suddenly - this really did happen almost overnight - they learned to cultivate even stronger attachment ‎to their own ethnic and cultural sub-groups, rather than to the host nation.  Nuts to Natus.

            Evidence for this alarming about-face abounds. In a 2006 Library of Parliament research report on Canadian Multiculturalism, to take just one example, the authors state: "As a fact, ‎'multiculturalism' in Canada refers to the presence and persistence of diverse racial and ethnic minorities who define themselves as different, and who wish to remain so."(Current Issue Review, March 16, 2006).  A similar sentiment is now to be found in all Western nations.

              A close friend who was part of this discussion said he prefers the term "interculturalism." Sounds nice. But that term was first coined by Quebecois culture-theorists who were striving to protect the unity and centrality (read: superiority) of their unique French culture in Canada against its erosion in the face of the Canada's national multicultural policy (formed earlier, but first promulgated as law, in 1988).

               I support them. Because multiculturalism, while enjoyable as a lightweight fact of life (sushi, French movies, Italian style, etc) is in its theoretical basis an attack on the uniqueness and centrality of Western civilization as a whole (and certainly on French culture, which was such a mainstay of Western Civ until about a century ago). So no wonder the French Canadians fought, and continue to fight back! I wish Anglophones were as proud of their own distinctive culture and would do the same.

               Broadly-speaking, multiculturalism is an attack on even the slightest hint that Western civilization may have been, may be still, superior to all other civilizations.  Remember the Stanford University cry: "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ has got to go!" I mean to say, multicultural policy was at bottom a rear-guard administrative action by culturally-crumbling modern states striving to create unity from the diversity they had brought - and continue to bring - upon themselves. For the past half century they have been fornicating themselves to death with the help of contraception and abortion , instead of procreating vigorously and, at the very least, replacing themselves with their own progeny.

                But negative birth-rates eventually mean aging and weak labour markets, and a need to import labour from countries foreign to our way of life. So all the bureaucratic-capitalist states, faced with empty cradles that have resulted from their own anti-procreative death-wish, simply invented a false conception of "culture" they called "multiculturalism" with which they imagined they could restore the failing cultural unity evaporating right before their eyes. No one  bothered to face the fact that as an abstract concept, multiculturalism is a fiction that kills its own host culture. A lie the legions of aging and frightened bureaucrats running the western democracies imagined would unite their fragmented citizens as One People again, but this time ... worldwide! Multiculturalists are all One Worlders. And they have been doing this, even while watching  hundreds of distinctive cultural groups within their own borders unite with their own real cultural groups, against the false-culture multicult. Which is to say, against the host nations themselves. "No-go" zones in Europe's major cities are plainly manifestations of this.

                 Well, Alexander the Great was the World's first multiculturalist. His dream fell apart about five minutes after he died. As "nations", the political regimes of the West are all suffering a slow, cancerous "diversity death" - even as, blinded by the centripetal evidence of its failure before their very eyes, they preach the healing balm of multiculturalism more desperately.

                  So I insist: you can enjoy diversity within unity. But you cannot derive unity from diversity. We need to recognize this truth before it is too late. 

Thursday
Feb232017

Our Great Philosophical, Literary, and Aesthetic Tradition

        Here, I beg indulgence. I was trained as a professor of English and Comparative Literature, and I enjoy most the study of the History of Ideas, as it is called. The contributions to human life, understanding, and enrichment by many other cultures have of course been impressive in their own right. But my preferences are clear. The cumulative human search for goodness, truth, and beauty in the Western tradition is unique, something to marvel at and defend, and the recent root and branch attack on it - mostly by egalitarian, post-modern radicals – to be energetically rebuffed.

For there simply is no other culture that has produced works of the mind and heart, of philosophy, literature, music and art, as grand and fruitful as those of the Western tradition. From Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, to Augustine and Aquinas; from the insight and beauty of the King James Bible to the soaring cathedrals – Westminster, Winchester, Chartres -  angelic choir voices descending; to the glorious music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Tchaikovsky - and countless others; to our great literature from Beowulf to the Canterbury Tales – and yes, all that very fine French and German and Spanish literature , old and new- to virtually all of Shakespeare, to the great tradition of the novel from Fielding to Dickens, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, to Joyce and Faulkner (I haven’t kept up with the moderns) to the ringing songs of our poets, and yes, all those gorgeous visual forms, and paintings  - the Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, all of Rembrandt, Turner, much of Van Gogh, almost all the French Impressionists, our own fine Group of Seven - whole continents of stunning modern painting and sculpture …Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, oh, my heart.       

           And of course our lofty English - of all languages, the most ample, most flexible, the most free and open to innovation – has, precisely because of this adaptive freedom become the new  lingua franca, as they say. Open and ample? A famous professor of French boasted to us in a Stanford lecture that he could find all or part of every word of the French language, somewhere in the English language. Flexible? Resourceful? No language has over the last millennium taken over and absorbed as its own so many words from other peoples. It is now the universal language. The Oxford English Dictionary is the still the largest and most astonishing glory of all the world’s dictionaries, the miraculous endeavour of its assembly after a century of labour a signal tribute to the English people’s love of their language.

 

Tuesday
Feb212017

Our Faltering, But Still Great Legal System

        It needs criticism and ongoing improvement (and I outline some improvemets in Chapter Fifteen of The Trouble With Canada ...Still!, on the Law and the Constitution). But compared to the legal systems of other cultures? - No contest. Down wiht the myth that other cultures offer legal systems as good!

To Mother England, once again, we owe most of the freedoms from Statism, and the common-law rights that we too often take for granted (tho to be truthful, they have been undermined recently even there).

Superior is the British-based right to private property we have known since the twelfth century. Superior are the individual freedoms and rights to protection from Statism that were enshrined in Magna Carta in 1215, and improved and defended ever since (well, until 1982 in Canada).

Superior is the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty before a jury of peers or an independent judge!

Superior are the rights of citizens to legal appeal to higher courts!

Superior is the right of the poor to free counsel!

Other than Rome at the height of her glory (from whence also we have drawn much in the way of legal practice) no other system has ever provided its people with such a cultural fabric of superior legal rights and freedoms.

Indeed one of the supporting ribs of The Trouble With Canada ... Still! is the nation-defining contrast between the British-based common-law system, and the French-based code-law system, arguing for the superiority of the former. The practical reality that all who have thrown in their lot with the English bottom-up common-law system are free to do anything that is not prohibited by the law, is an extraordinary inheritance of the English people. We are presumed free by birth and by inherited right. This stands in stark opposition to the dictates found in so many top-down nations of history, where citizens are permitted only to do what is specified and allowed – or altered by judges - in a written code.

There is a huge difference in principle and in reality between a regime where you are deemed free by nature to do anything that is not prohibited, and one in which you can only do what is permitted!     

Monday
Feb202017

Dollar Democracy

Much of the first part of my book The Trouble With Canada ...Still! (2010) explains and praises what I have called “the tools of freedom and wealth creation,” and the remarks apply to the US and all other free societies.

To confess, I do not like much of what raw capitalism has produced. Ugly commercial sprawl, grating and incessant advertising, the sexualization of all human life, pornography for sale even in the swankiest hotels, a population taught that the best man is the one who dies with the most toys, and so on. On the other hand, compared to all the other systems – communism, socialism, fascism, the various dictatorships, and the mixed and mixed up systems of most other nations  - ours is amazing.

It supplies the ordinary citizen with largely unrestricted free choice in daily commercial life with respect to how to spend the fruits of personal labour. It is indeed a form of democratic capitalism, or what I have called a “dollar democracy” under which ordinary people make or break those who serve them well or poorly. Okay, we are half slaves to the State because we are forced to surrender up to half our earnings every year. Nevertheless, what I have called our Freedom System is exactly that. It is a superior system of private property rights, contractual rights, legal justice, protection against force and fraud, and investment opportunities large and small that enable the vast majority of people freely to guide their own lives economically, to their own ends, by their own means, in a culture more or less free of normative corruption. That is a unique, superior, universally-duplicable system that we owe to our unique history. We forget this at our peril. 

Sunday
Feb192017

Canada's Great Political System

My next few blogs will describe some of the things that make Canada great - and better than most other countries and cultures ( hope I do not get arrested for writing something so politically-incorrect!)

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Our Great Political System

         I have many complaints about Canada, and out of love for my country have often aired these in writing. But I defend the historical fact that almost no other political system in history – and few for such a length of time – has produced such peace and prosperity combined, when it comes to influence over rulers, with the right of the people “to throw the bastards out.” That is a most lovely right, and a dear gift of our ancestors, to be venerated. Nor has any other system but ours defended to the death the most revolutionary idea of all: that all people everywhere have rights (and duties) that are independent of the culture in which they happen to find themselves. They are rights grounded, it is argued, in human nature, and not in any one culture. This was a claim and ideal of ancient Greek and Roman “natural law” as can be clearly seen in the works of such as Cicero. It was later a Christian claim and ideal spread by the Gospels (and most clearly articulated philosophically by Saint Thomas Aquinas), and it has found a vulnerable success wherever Western values have spread. Further, and despite all that may be reproached of our unique limited representative democratic system embedded in a constitutional monarchy, our right to express our individual views through elected Parliamentarians who in turn are checked by a loyal opposition, and a region-based Senate system (so as not to trample minority regions) – the whole jumble is a superior crowning glory! Included also are our many other inherited checks and balances on raw power. And so much of this we owe to Mother England. I defend all this as a superior system because no other people has ever produced anything as good. The oft-vaunted Greek and Roman democracies were slave-infested systems. Even the American republican system is not as good, as our founders well knew, because the Americans hold elections in which they castigate, vilify, and ridicule each other - we have just witnessed a feast of such frenzied abuse in the American 2016 election - and then, after all candidates have declared that all candidates are incompetent ... one of them is elected! Whereupon, all those who voted for the losers - sometimes more than half of all the people - find themselves unrepresented. But Canadians have a non-political Monarch who always represents and symbolizes them as one united people. Most Canadaisn are unaware that in this sense, the Prime Minister represents only the government of the people, not the people themselves. Only the Queen does that (or within Canada, the Governor-General). It is a superior and noble thing indeed to have a symbol of high decency representing all the people that cannot be touched by partisan politics! So do not pretend other systems are as good … or you may soon find yourself living under one of them!

 

 

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