The other day I defined Idealism as belief in mysterious universals. I noted that while this pernicious trait appears both in “religious” (paranormal) and “secular” (nonparanormal) belief systems, these days it’s much more common in the latter. And I suggested that this may have something to do with the monstrous violence of the Enlightenment era.
For example, there is no way to distinguish someone who worships the Environment from someone who venerates the Great God Pan. In the real world the two will act identically.
Indeed, it’s easier to reason with the Pan-worshipper. When he tells you that he needs to save the rainforest because the rainforest is sacred to Pan, the conversation (to a Pan-skeptic such as myself) is over. Both sides can see that there is no common point of reference, and the two of you can start working out how to agree to disagree.
Whereas when the Environment-worshipper tells you about the biodiversity of the rainforest, she has created an endless hairball of arguments which trail off into nonsense everywhere. What, exactly, is “biodiversity,” and why is it important? What does “lungs of the planet” mean? Does the planet have a liver, too, and if so where is it? Idealism without holy books is a permanent fountain of conversation, a goldmine for the sophist caste.
The danger of Idealism is that it is a form of rationalism. Rationalism is the assertion that one’s received beliefs are products of pure reason. In fact, rationalism is to reason as scientism is to science. Here at UR we believe in reason, too, but we like to work our beliefs out for themselves. Regular readers may have noticed that we’ve been getting very different results.
My stance on the world should be pretty clear by now. I think the West’s replacement of Christianity with Idealism was a disaster. (In fact, since the roots of Idealism in Protestant Christianity are so clear—ideals such as Democracy and Equality simply reek of pure Jesus—it’s arguable that Idealism is simply a fanatical strain of nontheistic Christianity. But the idea of nontheistic Christianity is hard for people to swallow and it at least deserves its own post.)
In any case, it’s clear that most people who describe themselves as nonbelievers are in fact Idealists, often quite fanatical ones. Our planet is infested with pseudo-atheists. It’s horrible.
Most of the people who understand that we live in the Idealist equivalent of a theocracy—an ideocracy, perhaps—are “paleoconservatives.” And their intellectual recovery program tends to include a return to pre-Idealist Christianity. Two very perceptive paleos are Larry Auster and Daniel Larison, both of whose blogs I read every day.
Perhaps they’d be horrified to hear it, but there’s a certain Voltairean flavor to the work of both these writers. As with most paleos, their writing is just refreshing. Every day, some bloated balloon of Idealistic cant floats in and yields its musty guts to the clear, sharp pen. These gentlemen are the new philosophes, and I’m sure history will treat them as such.
Unfortunately, I am not a Christian. I have no faith. I simply don’t see any reason to believe in the paranormal. And while I think the West would be a much better place if it returned to traditionalist Christianity, I don’t think this can happen spontaneously and I don’t think it can be done by force. Nor do I see any other possibilities.
Christianity is either (a) true or (b) untrue. There is no (c). Since I believe it is (b), a return to traditionalist Christianity from universalist Idealism (what Auster calls “liberalism”) is not, in my opinion, a case of truth outcompeting fiction.
Certainly one fiction can outcompete another. Public opinion is at root a matter of fashion. The world contains both fashionable fictions and unfashionable ones. The problem is that, at present, all the fashionable people in the world (except for Taki) are Idealists, and a very large percentage of the unfashionable ones are traditionalists.
I find it simply impossible to imagine any reversal in this pattern, at least until traditionalist Christianity has been entirely or almost entirely extirpated by the Idealists. This looks like it will take at least another forty or fifty years. And at this point, what does traditionalism even mean? It becomes an invention, a fake, the equivalent of Ossian or Kwanzaa.
I will pass over the revolting idea of reimposing Christianity by force. I’m sure it would work, in a sense, because (contrary to Idealist doctrine) people can in fact be conquered and indoctrinated. But I don’t believe there’s a paleoconservative on earth who would endorse it, even if they could imagine a way of making it happen.
Paleoconservatism, in my opinion, is a tactical dead end in the struggle against Idealist rule. It seems promising, because it seems to offer a large body of supporters—traditionalist Christians—who are relatively uncontaminated by Idealist propaganda, and many of whom are hopping up and down with rage at the various insanities, absurdities and atrocities they see perpetrated with such blithe self-confidence by the Idealist fanatics who run the world. But the actual power of this power base has been diminishing for the last 250 years, and no one has managed to do anything useful with it for at least the last 100. Ought is not the same as is.
This is why I prefer the Voltaire angle. I will do my damnedest to pop any balloon, Idealist or Christian. I am an equal-opportunity pin. It so happens that, contrary to the river of insane paranoia which the Idealist press constantly pumps into our eyeballs, almost all real power in the world is held by Idealists. So the really fat, juicy balloons are the Idealist ones. But I hope my readers, all three of them, will not mistake this for some deference to Christianity.
To me, the best scenario for getting rid of Idealism is one in which, as has happened many times in history both distant and recent, smart young people realize that their elders are pumping them full of premasticated tripe. I think the West needs an Orange Revolution. Therefore, the cultural trend I find most hopeful is the appearance of youth-oriented and thoroughly fashionable outlets, such as VICE and the eXile, which seem to have less of an investment in Idealism than, say, Vanity Fair.
Perhaps someone can correct me, but I have no hesitation at all in saying that VICE is hipper than Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair, however, is definitely hipper than VDare (which so far as I know has never published any “Whore-R Stories”). Thus my reasoning on tactics. If any paleos care to correct my misconceptions, the comments section is open.
One reader, George Weinberg, who has contributed many thoughtful comments to UR and hopefully will contribute many more, suggests that non-Idealism is too close to nihilism for his comfort. (“We are nihilists! We believe in nothing!”)
I disagree. To me non-Idealism is nothing more than atheism, properly applied. It’s my personal reaction to Chesterton’s remarkable observation that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. I agree with this observation—it matches my own. But I just think it takes work and attention to really “believe in nothing,” to be a reasonable person rather than a rationalist Idealist.
To me “nihilism” implies amorality. And morality is at bottom an emotional reaction. It is not a tradition. It is an aspect of human biology. I cannot think of any human culture that has actually been amoral or antimoral—the most murderous tend to be those that spend the most time obsessing about right and wrong. Therefore, I see Nihilism as just another anti-Ideal, a universal that can’t be defined because it cannot exist in reality. In other words, it’s an imaginary threat that seems suspiciously well-adapted to herd us back toward Idealism.
While I certainly would not endorse the entire oeuvre of David Stove—in particular, I can’t make head or tail of his anti-Darwinism—his famous piece What Is Wrong With Our Thoughts does a great job of making the case against Idealism. I’d certainly say non-Idealism is a form of the neo-positivism Stove presents in this cute little rant.
To me, what’s so unfortunate about our contemporary version of Idealism is that it’s an almost perfect replacement for actual thought.
Modern society is awesomely complex, but not entirely without structure and form. History is not deterministic, but it exhibits recurrent patterns. Classifying these patterns, understanding the flow of cause and effect, distinguishing between vicious and virtuous cycles, is a fascinating, difficult, and (to me, at least) endlessly entertaining task.
In the place of this task, Idealism gives us cant. Its little shrieking lizard-monkey leaps up and tells us that Democracy and the Environment are good, Inequality and Racism are bad. It sometimes even finds ways of purveying this cant that pass, at least to their authors, as humor. The entire Idealist blogosphere considers itself hilarious. It also thinks of itself as the true and only successor to Rabelais, Voltaire and Mark Twain. It’s all very depressing.
What’s a non-Idealist to do? I mean, of course, besides shaving your head, selling your possessions and coming to live on my paramilitary literary commune, where the food is the only thing more boring than the incessant calisthenics, sonnet drills and rifle practice.