Our Ontologies, Our Selves

by John Holbo on May 26, 2020

I need to establish better Twitter/Blog balance in my life. I switched over to Twitter because the kids know where it’s at. This Twitter joint is hopping and bopping. I do feel Twitter has been good for my writing style. That sounds strange. But I have these terrible, more or less Montaignean habits of starting in one place, arcing around, seemingly aimlessly, only to return to the one place. That’s not good, academic prose. And it doesn’t work on Twitter, so I’m forced to cut down. It has its literary charms, my loopy prose stye, but, late in life, I’ve decided I need to get better control over it. I should rule it, not it me! Yet long twitter threads, even if they are direct in their way, are such a mockery of literary form. Like serving a pint of beer in a long row of eyedroppers. So I’m swearing off the long stuff, on Twitter. So I’d better get back here to CT.

Right, to get back started in a traditional way, I’m going to complain about Rod Dreher, like it’s Old Home Week. (Just so you know I may be on Twitter now, but I haven’t changed.) It must seem strange I’m so fixated on Dreher, but, fact is, sometimes he looks to me like sort of my mirror universe opposite. Frequently he will report he’s reading authors I’ve read. We see the same things, just opposite-style. Today it’s Modris Eksteins. I read his Rites of Spring years ago and was really excited by it. Good book. Dreher likes it because he thinks it will help him shift the charge that he’s just too fussed about sex.

Certain liberals in this blog’s comments section love to scratch their heads and puzzle over why social and religious conservatives are so preoccupied with sex. They ought to read a little history. Sexual revolution was at the core of the Modernist revolution.

I find this shift genuinely baffling because, on the one hand, it’s a ‘we’ve got to see where this is going!’ argument. On the other hand, it seemingly can’t see 3-inches in front of its own nose as to where it, itself, is bound.

Dreher concludes by linking to a “First Things” piece by Carl Trueman. How to describe it? I guess it’s trying to cover for the fact that it’s, on its face, a flagrant slippery slope fallacy, by straining to see to the very very, very, very, very bottom of the alleged slippery slope. It turns out the argument isn’t about sex but philosophy.

The debate over LGBTQ issues is not a debate about sexual behavior. I suspect it is not really at this point a debate with the L, the G, or the B. It is the T and the Q that are carrying the day, and we need to understand that the debate is about the radical abolition of metaphysics and metanarratives and any notion of cultural stability that might rest thereupon.

I’m tempted to suggest this is just a ham-handed effort to horn in on the Twitter craze for ‘ruin x by changing one letter’ memes. But no: seriously. It’s supposed to be about philosophy.

Queer Theory is one of the most significant of these approaches. Wading through the pretentiously written and interminably opaque prose always left me wondering: What exactly is the endgame here? What do these people want in terms of positive philosophical and political construction? I eventually concluded that the answer was really quite simple: The purpose of critical theory is not to establish anything at all. Rather, it is to destabilize as potentially oppressive any claim to transcendent truth or value. Its target is the destruction of all metanarratives, and thus the bombastically rebarbative prose is itself part of the “argument.” Leaving readers hopelessly confused about even the simplest things is an important part of the game, pellucid simplicity being one way the oppressors made their oppression seem natural.

Conservatives often respond to claims about the death of metanarratives with the trite observation that this too is a metanarratival claim. That is true, but only in the most banal sense, and the point is polemically useless. All previous metanarratives have, for good or ill, attempted to provide the world with stability, a set of categories by which cultures can operate. They may have offered different, even mutually exclusive, accounts of the world, but offering stability was still the intention. The metanarrative of the death of metanarratives does the antithesis of this: It serves only to destabilize everything. It is the quintessential ideology of the anti-culture, opposed to any and every form of transcendent authority. And that generates all manner of problems, even in the most unlikely of places.

Dreher thinks this is smart stuff. But where is it supposed to lead? Dreher fears Soft Totalitarianism above all else. What if it happens here? To ward off this menace, the government should come to people’s doors and whisper, menacingly, through the keyhole: ‘some of your neighbors report you have been seen, destabilizing the metanarratives.’ Does that smell like freedom? Or maybe not the government, just the people themselves … all up and down Maple Street? What does healthy communal enforcement of metaphysical hegemony of favored metanarratives look like?

I’m sure Dreher will say he is, of course, not truly in favor of establishing a Department of Metanarrative Security, to hunt down dangerous ontological dissidents. But if that’s the REAL danger to be addressed, then why isn’t that what we should do? And if that’s ridiculous, then how are concerns about other people’s metaphysics not either overblown or, at least in practice, nothing there is anything permissible to be done about, politically? If it’s absurd to suppose civil rights properly extend to the point of it being permissible for private citizens to entertain skeptical metaphysical propositions, how far do they extend, according to Dreher?

{ 108 comments }

1

Dr. Hilarius 05.26.20 at 1:55 am

I’m a pretty concrete kind of person. I understand what happens when water is polluted or food is contaminated, but what are the real life consequences of destabilized metanarratives? What protection will I require? Silver bullets? Holy water? A year of barely edible food stored in my basement? This is one threat I think I can ignore.

2

JR 05.26.20 at 1:59 am

This kind of stuff always baffles me.* Back in the day, when I drank with analytic philosophers, they hated two things: post-modernism (which they consistently elided with post-structuralism, drove me bonkers) and appeals to “transcendent truth or value” but they hated the former mostly because they thought the arguments were either bad or lacking, not because it undermined the latter (and besides, they thought they’d already done that, so why need post-modernism?). I mean: once you’ve heard Davidson pronounce that “truth is not an epistemic term” then the death of meta-narratives seems somewhat like small beer.

*I mean it doesn’t really, because it’s not about truth or ontology but about who gets to decide what decent upright behaviour is. It’s always about the so-called values, not truth.

3

PatinIowa 05.26.20 at 2:06 am

Here’s a metanarrative I can live with: When someone says it’s not about sex, and you look closely, you’ll find it really was about sex all along.

And/or gender.

4

John Holbo 05.26.20 at 2:08 am

To be fair to Dreher, it all sort of is in Nietzsche. The Death of God. The idea that the death of Christian metaphysics entails the collapse of Christian culture. But to me that is just one of the least plausible things he ever said. And – maybe I’m trying to defend the guy – I don’t think he can really be read as arguing that Christianity – Christian culture – was ever resting, at its bottom level, on metaphysical conviction, let along actual metaphysics. Metaphysics, for Nietzsche, is always armor or weapons one evolves for a purpose. So one should ask after that purpose. It’s a Will-to- … to what? To something, anyway. That’s Nietzsche. To put it another way, in Nietzschean terms, telling the history of the West in terms of laying these metaphysical foundations is Monumental History. That is, narrating Effects without Causes. You see the show. You don’t see what’s behind the scenes.

5

faustusnotes 05.26.20 at 2:25 am

This quote from the First Things article is great:

<

blockquote>
Queer Theory is one of the most significant of these approaches. Wading through the pretentiously written and interminably opaque prose always left me wondering: What exactly is the endgame here?

<

blockquote>
The second sentence could be rewritten as

I didn’t understand any of it

Which gets me to my favourite Suicidal Tendencies quote, that is so useful for understanding and criticizing almost all of modern conservative “thought”:

just ‘coz you don’t understand it don’t mean it don’t make no sense

These religious conservatives can’t be smart and well-read and good at comprehending what they read, because if they did they wouldn’t be religious conservatives. It’s like the opposite of survivorship bias.

6

Jeffrey Kramer 05.26.20 at 2:27 am

In the U.S. — at least in terms of debates carried out in legislatures, in courts, or on TV — the case for same-sex marriage, for including sexual orientation in anti-discrimination law, even (the Crime of All Crimes for Dreher) letting Drag Queen Story Hour proceed in public libraries, has rested pretty much entirely on the “meta narrative” about all people enjoying equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and about how our history is one of progressively understanding that concept better and better, and seeing that it applies to people we formerly dismissed and despised. I would be very surprised to find if there was one allusion to Derrida for every ten thousand allusions to the DOI in public debates on these matters.

Obviously there is more wrestling with post-modernist ideas in discussions carried out in philosophy classes than there is in state legislatures, but is Dreher really claiming that those who make the case for LGBTQ rights in the Ohio legislature are just the pawns of Foucault, with the end goal of the New World Disorder? Or what?

7

Emma 05.26.20 at 2:37 am

I don’t really have anything substantive to add, but this is beautiful & I love it. Conservatism is a wholly performative act, apparently; Rod himself is a Victorian fairy, a magical construct which subsists upon the belief of the innocent. When we liminal queer citizens deprive him of applause by insisting upon our own humanity (and by extension his wrongness), I guess he is somehow demoted from the bottom of the garden to the role of the spindle witch? Rod needs to read a better class of fairy tale. Not even Disney movies are that basic anymore.

TIL skepticism of literally anything is apocalyptically toxic :(

Or, wait — none of this has ever been about the will of Christ, or a biological preference for the obviously superior mores of Western Europe, has it? It’s all about Rod Dreher’s inability to decide whether he’s Tinkerbell or an Electric Monk.

8

John Holbo 05.26.20 at 2:40 am

The idea that it’s all a feint to set Derrida on the throne of metaphysics has a “The Man Who Was Thursday” conspiracy goofiness that appeals to me.

9

Alan White 05.26.20 at 3:50 am

Re Twitter and writing (as a non-tweeter myself)–here’s a link to a new post and thread (to which I’ve contributed having written such stuff years ago) that restates classic philosophy arguments in monosyllables:

https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2020/05/wise-thoughts-summaries-of-classic-philosophical-works-in-words-of-one-syllable-.html

Limiting oneself to one-syllable words forces concentration on what counts. FWIW

10

J-D 05.26.20 at 3:56 am

Anybody who can, in the same article, write ‘the debate is about the radical abolition of metaphysics and metanarratives and any notion of cultural stability that might rest thereupon’ and complain about ‘pretentiously written and interminably opaque prose’ has some damn nerve. But then, this is somebody who can use the phrase ‘bombastically rebarbative prose’ without noticing that it’s self-descriptive.

(Nerve? Cheek? Hide? Gall? Crust? Maybe it’s all of them.)

11

Jerry Vinokurov 05.26.20 at 4:18 am

radical abolition of metaphysics and metanarratives and any notion of cultural stability that might rest thereupon

Look, I don’t know what the rest of you are doing on the internet, but this is what I’m here for.

12

bad Jim 05.26.20 at 6:21 am

“All previous metanarratives have, for good or ill, attempted to provide the world with stability, a set of categories by which cultures can operate.”

Karl Marx had a rather different take on the subject:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

The latter I

13

J-D 05.26.20 at 8:03 am

Yet this is a massively important issue: whether or not the law will deny biological reality, and make it a civil rights offense to assert that biology matters.

Spoiler alert: the law will not deny biological reality, and will not make it a civil rights offence to assert that biology matters.

Anybody who’s worried about any such prospect can rest easy.

Rod Dreher can thank me later.

14

SusanC 05.26.20 at 8:27 am

Dreher’s problem seems to be that God is dead, as Nietzsche said.

If you had a God to tell you what the conceptual categories were, and which of them you belonged to, you could at least pretend to be a member of the category you were told you belonged to.

(By comparison, The Buddha and Nagarjuna don’t strike me as the kind of people to tell you what the categories are… Tagathas are not ultimately real, etc. If you asked what knfpd of self you were obligated to have, you might get the answer that you don’t have a self)

15

SusanC 05.26.20 at 8:47 am

For that matter, this line of argument was anticipate by Plato’s Republic: Dreher thinks it was nicer being inside the cave.

Of course, Plato believes in forms/ideals, and doesn’t worry that in the realm of the Lacanian Real or the Buddhist Ultimatelt Real, there might be no forms. So you take the red pill, and all there is is the clear light of the Boddhisatvas, and nothing else.

16

Phil 05.26.20 at 9:49 am

I’m sure Dreher will say he is, of course, not truly in favor of establishing a Department of Metanarrative Security, to hunt down dangerous ontological dissidents. But if that’s the REAL danger to be addressed, then why isn’t that what we should do? And if that’s ridiculous, then how are concerns about other people’s metaphysics not either overblown or, at least in practice, nothing there is anything permissible to be done about, politically?

I have no wish to defend – or even to read – Dreher, but isn’t this a variant of the Two-step of Terrific Triviality? (“Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it.”) By narrowing down the possible interpretations to two, or one and a shrug – either he wants us to inform on our neighbours to the secret police, or what is even the point? – you exclude the possibility that he’s saying words, making arguments, constructing positions, just like anybody else. Faulty arguments and incorrect positions, probably, but hey. Or is the point that he pre-emptively ruling out engaged with queer theory in any way, so you’re climbing up another rung and pre-emptively ruling out engaging with him?

17

Stephen 05.26.20 at 9:53 am

Jerry Vinokurov@11: you’re all in favour of “the radical abolition of metaphysics and metanarratives and any notion of cultural stability that might rest thereupon”.

But is there any cultural stability that does not rest on some sort of metaphysics and metanarratives? If so, what does it rest on?

If not, does that mean you want to abolish any sort of cultural stability?

18

Sophie Jane 05.26.20 at 10:08 am

Just popping in with the regular reminder that what’s actually at stake in this “ontological” “debate” is whether I and my friends should be allowed to live, and under what conditions.

19

Sophie Jane 05.26.20 at 10:38 am

What’s interesting to me in the wider context is that this is the second example I’ve seen of quite specific and recent transphobic campaigning points popping up as abstract questions of philosophy. Last time, it was the TERFs attempts to define trans women as something other than women re-imagined as a question of epistemology. This time, it’s an “ontological” take on the LGB Alliance’s attempt to divide the queer community. There’s clearly something going on in academic philosophy.

20

Gareth Wilson 05.26.20 at 11:19 am

A while back there was a TV discussion on same-sex marriage and one of the pro side was asked what his definition of marriage was. He refused to give one, and said that asking for a definition was just a tactic by the anti side to get him to give an exploitable soundbite. Maybe his tactical reasoning was sound, but take it too far and you have no definition of marriage. Of course now we’re all bored by same-sex marriage and the word that people don’t want to give a definition for is “woman”.

21

Anarcissie 05.26.20 at 4:21 pm

Mr. Dreher is talking about the need for shibboleths. (See https://crookedtimber.org/2018/06/14/shibboleths-repost-from-2011/ which gives a reasonable explanation, although I think wrong at the last about doublethink.) In other words:
1. One must find and adhere to one’s tribe, and be accepted by it.
2. A metanarrative is a narrative.
3. Tribes are organized around narratives.
Therefore, an attack on metanarratives, etc. etc. etc.

22

oldster 05.26.20 at 4:28 pm

Stephen at 17:

If by “cultural stability” you mean things like people keeping their promises, behaving peacefully, helping each other in natural disasters, and not killing each other, then,
1) yes, I want it, and
2) no, no “meta-narrative” is needed — just ordinary decency and a sense of human solidarity.

If by “cultural stability” you mean things like worshipping as our ancestors did, maintaining the strict caste hierarchy, not allowing new forms of love and friendship to occur, and tugging our forelocks when meeting our betters, then,
1) yes, “meta-narratives” are needed to justify such repression and oppression, and
2) no, I do not want “cultural stability”.

23

bianca steele 05.26.20 at 4:55 pm

Call me naive, but there’s something I only realized very recently (through reading probably not worth recounting): Apparently, there are people who believe that people do things because a metaphysical system implants theoretical beliefs in their head, and that philosophers can “shore up” the ideas in various people’s heads, just by strenuously objecting in print to anyone who says otherwise. This allows Dreher to blame pointy-headed intellectuals for what he feels to be the sins of his fellow-man.

Anybody with a smidgen of common sense would realize this isn’t how it works, and moreover that no one with any sense would opine that it is. This being the Internet, I expect to be contradicted, and explain that by my not having been to Brakebills but only to a trivial Ivy.

24

Doctor Science 05.26.20 at 5:32 pm

IMHO Dreher is trying to use philosophy to express something that’s really psychology. I’ve come to the conclusion–and Dreher’s writing has been really helpful, because he’s more thoughtful & careful than most of his ilk–that for MANY people their deepest sense of stability and safety is associated with a patriarchal family–Lakoff’s Strict Father model, basically. This family model is one where everyone has a role that is defined by gender, not by personal inclinations or abilities. Dad is the Boss, Mom is the Cook, boys play football (variously defined), girls help with housework. This keeps everyone safe, protected, reliable.

This is why they perceived marriage equality as a threat. This is why Dreher sees Queer Theory as a threat. He is actually right: the same-sex marriage movement was based on the assumption that both partners in any marriage are equal, legally and morally. Queer Theory is based on the idea that gender and sexuality are and of a right ought to be varied, multivalent, complex, and changable.

For Dreher, the “metanarrative” that “humans should be able, as much as possible, to develop their abilities and personal inclinations to be happy and to help each other to be happy” means nothing. It does not establish categories from which stability could flow, there is no structure as he understands it.

The thing is, the basic patriarchal structure Dreher clings to is fundamentally abusive, because it gives people roles without regard to inclination or ability–and then calls that “duty”. Everyone is put in a category that doesn’t match them (because people are more complicated than categories), and Dreher, on a gut level, interprets that mismatch as a feature, not a bug. For him it’s not a bed if it’s not Procrustean, anything else is just crazy talk, it’s like you don’t want to have beds at all!

25

Chip Daniels 05.26.20 at 8:32 pm

They way Dreher and his crowd tell it, the natural order is so deep and innate that it shouldn’t be challenged yet so delicate and precarious that without the iron grip of the state it will collapse.

26

PatinIowa 05.26.20 at 9:31 pm

Sophie Jane’s point is the only one that really matters down deep, in my view.
One of the features of contemporary conservatism is an allegiance to capitalism. (Not all conservatives, and Dreher may have his doubts, I don’t know.) It seems to me intellectually incoherent to advocate for capitalism and claim what you prize is social stability. You don’t have to be a Marxist to have noticed what capitalism does to families, to individuals, to … well … everything, even in the short run.
“Social stability,” seems to me as empirically valid as “the end of history.” We can pretend we have it, but those of us who have lived a long lifetime know that often things change, pretty radically, and pretty quickly, even in the most hide-bound societies. (And, at the same time, some things don’t. It’s complicated.) If there’s anything like “human nature,” it’s our ability to adapt to those changes and act as if they don’t exist, or naturalize them as an outgrowth of what came before.
One tiny, trivial example: I teach at Iowa. They built a new children’s hospital next to the football stadium. At the first game after the hospital opened, people in the stands turned and waved “at the kids,” in the hospital. The next home game, it was a “tradition.”

27

Dave Heasman 05.26.20 at 10:31 pm

Back in the 60s and 70s when the English police busted the underground press it was always “the filthy sex, think about the children”. It was always actually the politics.

28

mary s 05.26.20 at 11:06 pm

I’m inclined to agree with Dreher that a lot of theoretical prose is pretty lame — his included! Seems like he’s nostalgic for a time when “the oppressors made their oppression seem natural.” As in: A time when “everyone” knew what was “normal”? A time when people who weren’t normal felt compelled to hide themselves? Ugh.

29

J-D 05.26.20 at 11:16 pm

I have no wish to defend – or even to read – Dreher, but isn’t this a variant of the Two-step of Terrific Triviality? (“Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it.”)

No. It is not. Even if John Holbo had committed the fallacy of false dichotomy, that would not be the same thing as the Two-step of Terrific Triviality. They’re closer to being converses than they are to being the same thing. (The Two-step of Terrific Triviality is a deceptive defence of a position by construction of two possible interpretations; the fallacy of false dichotomy is an attack on a position by unjustified limitation to only two possible interpretations.)

But John Holbo has not committed the fallacy of false dichotomy. If I say, ‘If you don’t mean X, then you must mean Y’, then I am committing the fallacy of false dichotomy (unless, that is, the dichotomy I have invoked is not a false one but a true one). But if I say ‘If you don’t mean X, and you don’t mean Y, then I don’t know what you mean’, that’s not a piece of fallacious reasoning, it’s a request for clarification.

By narrowing down the possible interpretations to two, or one and a shrug – either he wants us to inform on our neighbours to the secret police, or what is even the point? – you exclude the possibility that he’s saying words, making arguments, constructing positions, just like anybody else.

But that possibility has not been excluded. Obviously he’s using words to make an argument and construct a position, but what is that position? If the point is not X, and it’s not Y, then what is it? If you know, why aren’t you telling us? If you don’t know, if you find the point obscure, then as far as I can tell you’re in the same boat as John Holbo.

30

Rapier 05.27.20 at 12:07 am

Among Dreher’s problems is that Conservatism is a meta narrative with no beginning, well Burke, and no end. A related problem is that Conservatives imagine themselves holding to an ideology but what they hold to isn’t an ideology, it’s just a floating meta narrative that is engaged to address everything in the universe. Where it’s always found that the universe is Conservative.

31

J-D 05.27.20 at 1:29 am

Maybe his tactical reasoning was sound, but take it too far and you have no definition of marriage.

His tactical reasoning was sound. By definition, you don’t want to take it too far, because that’s what ‘too’ means, but he wasn’t taking it too far, he was taking it just far enough.

32

J-D 05.27.20 at 3:40 am

What’s interesting to me in the wider context is that this is the second example I’ve seen of quite specific and recent transphobic campaigning points popping up as abstract questions of philosophy. Last time, it was the TERFs attempts to define trans women as something other than women re-imagined as a question of epistemology. This time, it’s an “ontological” take on the LGB Alliance’s attempt to divide the queer community. There’s clearly something going on in academic philosophy.

A retreat into abstract language is a common tactic (not restricted to philosophers) of those who desire euphemism (although not the only tactic they have), and a desire for euphemism is common (although not universal) among those who perpetrate or condone horrors.

33

ph 05.27.20 at 6:29 am

Interesting to read the comments here and those at the AC. RD engages with his critics in reasonable debate. I don’t share his views, or his fears. But I certainly don’t see him in anyway arguing for a police state, or the destruction of anything.

He does explicitly state that his ‘point’ is to improve the quality of debate among Christians. But let’s ignore what he says and impose our own prejudices as the most useful metric for measuring his intent, and the quality of his arguments. So very CT – as JH says, Twitter hasn’t changed him.

Too bad.

34

John Holbo 05.27.20 at 9:32 am

ph!

Your argument is of this form:

P1 JH claims that RD is committed, by things he says, to something seemingly absurd.
P2 But RD doesn’t seem to want his view to be absurd. He wants to be right!
C JH must be committed to ignoring everything RD says, wrongly, absurdly.

Have I got it?

35

notGoodenough 05.27.20 at 9:51 am

For me I think one of the more revealing quotes comes from Trueman. While I am perhaps somewhat ungenerous, I can’t help but read:

“…always left me wondering: What exactly is the endgame here? What do these people want in terms of positive philosophical and political construction? I eventually concluded that the answer was really quite simple: The purpose of critical theory is not to establish anything at all.”

And think to myself that Trueman has read one or more books on queer theory, has not understood the text(s), and then – rather than reaching out to anyone working in relevant areas – sat at his desk pondering and beard-stroking until he came up with his conclusion.

I would, were Trueman interested in taking suggestions, posit that perhaps if one lacks expertise in an area, a good course of action is to ask those who do not. That this does not appear to have occurred to Trueman seems a little odd – perhaps he should consider Proverbs 12:15.

36

Sophie Jane 05.27.20 at 10:20 am

@ph But I certainly don’t see him in anyway arguing for…. the destruction of anything.

What would the process of maintaining a metanarrative that doesn’t accept the existence of queer and trans people look like, given that queer and trans people visibly exist? What practical measures would be involved?

(I’m a little puzzled by his use of “queer”, as an aside. I think he probably means non-binary and gender nonconforming, given that he says it’s not about sex, which again makes me wonder who he’s been talking to.)

37

reason 05.27.20 at 10:20 am

Chip Daniels @25
I like that. It reminds me of my view of “Austrian economics” which regards laise faire capitalism as “deep and innate” but is so fragile that it collapses if any attempt is made to regulate it.

38

J-D 05.27.20 at 10:37 am

John Holbo

I warned you about this last time (in 2018) footnote 1, but you paid no heed, to your cost footnote 2.

39

Rob 05.27.20 at 11:07 am

@Rapier

Among Dreher’s problems is that Conservatism is a meta narrative with no beginning, well Burke, and no end. A related problem is that Conservatives imagine themselves holding to an ideology but what they hold to isn’t an ideology, it’s just a floating meta narrative that is engaged to address everything in the universe. Where it’s always found that the universe is Conservative.

Well, yes. Conservatism is the belief that there are good things (arrangements of social orders, or “metanarratives”) that arise without rational design and that they ought to be conserved, either because a) some force (God, or the invisible hand, which is just God in a nice suit) has arranged things this way or b) humans are so limited in perception and cognition that their rational schemes for rearranging the world are almost always worse.

In this case, Dreher is committed to defending particular complexes of social order, where different values have been woven together. Queerness is problematic for him, because queer people unpick these complexes: biology doesn’t have to determine gender, marriage doesn’t have to be between a man and a woman, and so on. Strong implications become weak and eventually dissolve entirely, leaving Dreher and co unable to make assumptions about anything. They profess to believe that most of the rest of society is in the same boat as them, and will end up clinging to the same wreckage, unless the queers can be prevented from dissassembling the ship mid-voyage.

An interesting test is whether a professed Conservative expends similar energy defending the “job” complex (wages, mentoring, pensions, long-term career arcs, promotion and training) as they do the “marriage” complex. In my experience they rarely do, which does tend to reduce “conservatism” to a metanarrative of convenience, to be deployed in the defence of social orders which one has some other reason for defending. Dreher seems to be more sincere than most, though, which I suppose is why John bothers writing about him at all.

40

ph 05.27.20 at 12:51 pm

In an alternate universe a left-leaning academic blog would be debating this critique of the implosion of the Sanders campaign, not ?

https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2020/05/first-as-tragedy-then-as-farce/

Corey’s blind infatuation with the young grifter from NY encapsulates the sham left described in the linked article, over-educated, smug, condescending, and blind to the machinations of the next generation of Dem politicos shouldering aside the old bulls for a prime place at the trough.

Somehow, the ‘best’ the Dems can come up with is Biden? What were the opportunity costs of betting the farm on ‘this time the walls really are closing in.” The last three years have been almost completely wasted, but rather than face up to that little nugget, we get what’s wrong with RD. Congrats!

41

Jerry Vinokurov 05.27.20 at 1:39 pm

Stephen, I will have to confess that I may not have been entirely serious in my original post. However, I will indulge the question:

But is there any cultural stability that does not rest on some sort of metaphysics and metanarratives? If so, what does it rest on?

I don’t think most people form their ethical thinking on the basis of some abstract metaphysics. Some people do, but I think most people more or less get along just fine with basic everyday morality without needing to ground it out in some ultimate metaphysical principle. I’m not too worried that without the proper mythopoetic foundation the wheels of society will come off the rails; that’s Straussian nonsense which is only true about the kind of society that Straussians want to build and tells us more about them than about anything else.

Of course, the end of metanarratives… is itself a metanarrative! Dunn dunn dunn. The call was always coming from inside the house and always will be. Ah well, nevertheless.

42

Tom 05.27.20 at 2:13 pm

Interesting discussion. (I like to think) I support LGBTQ rights and I always found the position to same-sex marriage very hard to take seriously, especially if coming from those who incessantly claim to love freedom.

After JH’s post, I went on RD’s blog and spent some time reading his posts. RD feels the cultural ground is shifting in the position he does not want and that his side, from being the oppressor, may become the oppressed. I believe his side is still the oppressor and far from being oppressed. But I wonder about some of the stuff he mentions.

For example, somebody above mentioned RD’s opposition to drag queen story hour. I had to google it because I did not know what it is (drag queens reading books to children 3-11 in public libraries). I am not sure what to make of it and I would have to think whether to bring my kids to it. It is not that DQSH strikes me as necessarily a wrong (or right, for that matter) initiative but it is more: if we allow DQSH, what else could be allowed on similar grounds that I would be certainly opposed to? It is possible that my limited moral imagination does not allow me to see the benefits of DQSH but, while I do not share RD’s opposition to them, I am at least perplexed. I wonder if others here have any thoughts.

In another post, RD links to the Speaker of the House of Commons in UK questioning “whether same-sex marriage was truly equal while still resisted by major religious groups” and saying that “I still feel we’ll only have proper equal marriage when you can bloody well get married in a church if you want to do so, without having to fight the church for the equality that should be your right.” Again, maybe it is the last remnant of libertarianism in me (and, again, maybe my limited moral imagination), but I have an instinctive reaction against this type of position. I decry the Church for the positions it takes on same-sex marriage but I would not want to impose it on the Church to have to recognize same-sex marriage within the Church itself.

So, tldr, I agree with JH but some of the points made by RD make me ponder.

43

Tom 05.27.20 at 2:14 pm

argh, it should be “opposition”, not “position” in my first paragraph.

44

MPAVictoria 05.27.20 at 6:20 pm

“What would the process of maintaining a metanarrative that doesn’t accept the existence of queer and trans people look like, given that queer and trans people visibly exist? What practical measures would be involved?”

Bingo. No one here should kid themselves about Rod. He would quite happily see LGTBQ people tossed in jail.

45

Stephen 05.27.20 at 7:20 pm

Oldster @22:
yes, indeed, but in well-known periods of remarkable revolutionary or counter-revolutionary cultural instability (do really I have to give examples?) the probability of “people keeping their promises, behaving peacefully … and not killing each other” has been low tending to zero. “Ordinary decency and a sense of human solidarity” doesn’t seem to have helped at all. I’m not sure that clinging to some sort of meta-narrative would always have done better. But Jerry’s advocacy of cultural instability does not seem to me to be necessarily wise.

46

bianca steele 05.27.20 at 7:34 pm

I think Dr. Science is right, but would add that just as some Marxists claim all problems (patriarchy, racism, depression, etc.) are caused by capitalism and remedied by revolutionary activity, under some definition, some conservatives claim all problems (lack of career advancement, existential angst, etc.) are caused by suffering individuals’ failure to adhere to traditional gender roles and remedied by going home and taking your parents’ money in return for behaving as their country-club friends expect. There’s not much I can say to such a person, as all they expect from me is silence, or at best severe error in the correction of which they can display their wit.

47

Collin Street 05.27.20 at 10:02 pm

I just want to point out to Gareth Wilson and the like that in fact there’s a reason people don’t want to give definitions, and that’s that definitions are bullshit.

(Because the reality is that words are defined by their centre, or centres, not by their borders: in the real world there are only individual things, not categories, and to be useful the categories have to match the things being categorised… which inevitably exist in soft continua. )

I mean, if you want definitions that actually describe the actual world, every second or third word needs to be “typically” and people need to be comfortable regardinv an atypical X as still a genuine X.

(Asking for definitions isn’t bad faith, as such. It’s just a fundamental misconception, a category error(ha!). Accurate definitions will have vague and indetermimate edges, and hard-edged definitions will be untrue. If you insist that people give you hard-edged false definitions because you’re uncomfortable working with squidgy vaguely-bordered categories that blend softly into on another, it’s not a lexicographer you should be asking for help from)

48

Collin Street 05.27.20 at 10:07 pm

Which is to say, I think the metanarrative he’s fighting against is “categories exist in our head, not in nature, and were not given by god inviolable: in the real world things mix”.

Because every other reactionary orifice says the same damned thing. Categories are real! Mixing goes against nature! If you’re an X you’re an X, and if you have the properties of Y as well you’re either a Y or a bad and improper and unworthy X!

And yeah. This is one of the many reasons I say what I say.

49

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 1:40 am

ph: “In an alternate universe a left-leaning academic blog would be debating this critique of the implosion of the Sanders campaign, not ?”

I take it this is your way of saying that in the actual universe, you have no pertinent response to my question?

50

faustusnotes 05.28.20 at 1:55 am

A reminder to everyone that RD routinely invents fake letters from “readers” that are obviously written by him, and then responds to them on his blog. John Holbo, is that what the cool kids call Platonic dialogue? Because I call it bullshit. But of course someone like ph will say “RD engages with his critics in reasonable debate”, because to ph “reasonable debate” is lying, cheating and yelling until everyone else shuts up.

And on this Sophie Jane is right, of course. RD needs to do all these things – and unctuous right wing trolls like ph need to support him – because as J-D says, they need euphemisms to hide their real goals, which if stated openly would horrify too many. RD’s entire body of work is an exercise in saying we should kill LGBTQ people – or at least repress them so thoroughly that functionally they don’t exist – without actually saying it, for the “reasonable” conservatives like Stephen up above, who want the same ends but don’t want to admit it publicly.

51

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 2:04 am

“A reminder to everyone that RD routinely invents fake letters from “readers” that are obviously written by him.”

I wonder about that. I’ll bet the letters are actually real. He invites them so I’ll bet he gets them. I’ll give him that much credit, on faith.

52

faustusnotes 05.28.20 at 2:10 am

John, Roy Edroso at alicublog has a long history of pointing out how convenient the reader letters are and how they’re obviously RD’s fantasies. I don’t think you should give these dishonest exterminationists any credit at all, and especially not on faith, which they already have way too much of.

53

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 2:18 am

I agree the letters give the blog a very Penthouse Letters ‘I never thought it would happen to me, but …’ fantasy vibe. But I don’t think that means they aren’t real. I think RD has a lot of readers who are like him. I would be surprised if he invented letters. It doesn’t seem like him. It would obviously be a dishonest thing to do. And RD would not, I think, go to the point of doing things he himself would regard as dishonest. I think he’s fooling himself. But I don’t think he thinks he’s fooling us.

54

faustusnotes 05.28.20 at 2:21 am

No John, there are too many “former liberal” readers who have switched to conservative and are gonna vote Trump even though they hate him “because of gay rights” to believe they’re real. And they all have the same smarmy tone. He is, like all conservatives, a liar and a traitor.

55

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 2:44 am

Oh RD is going to vote Trump for sure. And his confabulatory moral mind is going to kick into overdrive, to invent a threat from the other side sufficient that this would be a morally tolerable thing to do. But I don’t think he fakes emails.

56

faustusnotes 05.28.20 at 3:03 am

incidentally kudos for the title of this post, very smoothly done.

57

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 4:06 am

“kudos for the title of this post”

[Most interesting man gif] “I don’t always post on CT but when I do, the titles are very smoothly done!”

58

J-D 05.28.20 at 5:36 am

… I’ve gotten comfortable just not having a name for what I think I am. …

This is the kind of dilemma that can only arise in our world of fluid identities and no fixed categories. … It looks like identity free-fall. It looks terrifyingly vertiginous. …

Carl Trueman: This looks terrifyingly vertiginous.
What? I just told you I’ve gotten comfortable.
Carl Trueman: But it’s a dilemma, like identity free-fall!
Why don’t you believe me when I tell you I’m comfortable?
Carl Trueman: Nobody could be comfortable in that position.
I don’t know about other people. I didn’t say anything about other people. All I said was that I’m comfortable with my position.
Carl Trueman: But you said you don’t have a name for what you think you are!
So? Apparently I don’t need a name for what I think I am in order to feel comfortable. That’s just me, I didn’t say anything about anybody else. I guess you feel comfortable having a name for what you think you are. Well, good for you! If you don’t feel comfortable with my not having a label on me, that’s not my problem, that’s your problem, and what you need to do is build a bridge and get over it!

59

Gareth Wilson 05.28.20 at 7:12 am

“Accurate definitions will have vague and indetermimate edges, and hard-edged definitions will be untrue.”
All well and good, until you start making public policy. Technically you could have the policy be soft-edged as well, but that sounds awfully complicated.

60

ph 05.28.20 at 7:27 am

Re: Have you got it? I’m not sure you have.

You do, however, display precisely the same fallacious approach regarding evidence, in the case of RD, that you did with BK, – namely that unproven allegations sufficed to smear BK on this blog as a “serial sexual predator.”

Acknowledging your own grotesque interpretation of the available evidence, as you did shortly after vomiting up the wholly shocking and unjustified slur, did not, cannot, and will not ever unring that particular bell.

The incident did, however, give us a rare illuminating glimpse of the way your fine and generous mind works – an impression punctuated by your moderate observation that BK was, perhaps, BK ‘a little bit rapey.’

Which is exactly what I thought of when I read your “I don’t think RD is advocating a police state…”

And turning from RD to Rush sure beats squaring up to the four-year long circle jerk that’s passed for a serious response to voters choosing a rodeo clown over any number of ‘clearly more capable’ candidates.

Biden 2020!

61

Sophie Jane 05.28.20 at 9:33 am

@faustusnotes RD’s entire body of work is an exercise in saying we should kill LGBTQ people – or at least repress them so thoroughly that functionally they don’t exist – without actually saying it, for the “reasonable” conservatives like Stephen up above, who want the same ends but don’t want to admit it publicly.

To which I’d also add that John Holbo and the Crooked Timber mods have a responsibility here too, inasmuch as a post airing RD’s views for the sake of gentle scholarly mockery is becoming a polite and indirect debate about whether I should be killed. And it’s a largely one-sided debate, because the cost of participating for trans people (in time, energy, and distress) is so much greater than it is for the bigots being given a platform to spread their hatred.

62

Collin Street 05.28.20 at 9:43 am

Gareth, your local court juristiction should have a website from which you can download your local criminal sentencing rules and guidelines. You may wish to examine it to see what sort of conceptual framework the actual experts are working in.

63

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 12:31 pm

ph, I see that you are attempting to dodge the question again. Would you like to argue about Brett Kavanaugh? (Not RD nor whatever they are up to in the next universe over?) But I warn you I am old-fashioned about these things. You are averse to argument and evidence, preferring accusation and innuendo. But please: indulge me. What is your argument against something – anything! – I have said?

64

oldster 05.28.20 at 12:47 pm

SJ @ 61 —

The belief that bad people who argue in bad faith must be “engaged” with and debated in good faith is one of the besetting weaknesses of this blog’s proprietors.

One of the few times that my comments have been absolutely censored here — deleted without comment — was when I pointed out that “engaging” with a certain glibertarian pseudo-economist who lives on Koch Brothers money was just a way of assisting him in the spread of poisonous ideas.

You can say a lot of silly, false, irrelevant stuff in comments — god knows I do — but if you tell our progressive bloglords that they should stop assisting the spread of poisonous ideas, well, you can’t say that.

65

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 1:05 pm

“inasmuch as a post airing RD’s views for the sake of gentle scholarly mockery is becoming a polite and indirect debate about whether I should be killed”

If I did think RD was actually arguing for the killing of trans people I would take a different tone. I think he has nostalgia for a way of life that could only be maintained by soft totalitarian means. And so, when his mind touches that, he naturally accuses the people he sees interfering with the Way Things Should Be of being soft totalitarians. It’s a weird sort of projection. I don’t know whether mocking it is effective, but I don’t see myself as excusing it, by mocking it.

66

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 1:10 pm

“The belief that bad people who argue in bad faith must be “engaged” with and debated in good faith is one of the besetting weaknesses of this blog’s proprietors.”

I confess the ‘no, no, you aren’t mocking from quite the right angle, or to the proper degree, to put a stop to it’ school of criticism is a closed book to me. I mock the way God – or the universe (I suspect the latter) – made me to mock. It doesn’t come natural to me to mock in some other way, or with a different tone, though I concede it could be more effective.

67

oldster 05.28.20 at 1:27 pm

“Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Holbeau!”

No, my thought was not that you should mock from a different angle. Far be it from me to teach granny to suck eggs, or Holbo to egg suckers.

My point was just that some people don’t deserve to have their views spread, even for mockery.

Also, that the pose of mockery assumes that the mocker stands in a position of relative security from the mocked. “The Producers” would not have been produced in 1942.

So, if one feels a bit less secure, then sheer terror may feel like the more natural response than detached amusement.

68

ph 05.28.20 at 1:28 pm

Your question: “Have I got it?”

My answer: “I’m not sure you have.” That’s not an evasion, it’s an answer, just not one you prefer. Life’s like that.

As for RD, BK and RL, they share two common traits. First, they’re sideshows to the debacle taking place around us – lint an a coat tattered and covered in muck. Second, you manipulate and elide evidence in a transparently dull effort to transform ordinary people into monsters – as you did when you described BK as a serial sexual predator.

In JH world, you’re “old-fashioned about evidence” except when you twist evidence to malign and degrade. Nothing particularly unusual in that. Let’s just call it the little Trump in you. I’m hoping you’ll claim it’s Trump’s fault you claimed BK was a serial sexual predator.

As for RD, he’s not ‘advocating a police state’ at least as far as we can just at this moment. But hey, you imply, you never know with those Christian conservatives. I confess I couldn’t make it past the first sentence of your attack on RL.

By your own admission you traffic in evidence-free slurs, which you then rename as ‘mistakes’ on those occasions when the slur is so egregiously and outrageously false as to utterly indefensible, even by CT’s ludicrously biased standards.

Hate speech of your kind is not just tolerated at CT, but actively encouraged. Wack-job quacks are given a platform from which they pontificate on the disease-ridden ‘conservative’ mind is unpacked and examined through the lens of CT not-bigotry.

Occasionally, we’re treated to some really fine writing, and sometimes that writing comes from you. But not when you’re pulling the imaginary wings of your favorite flies.

69

notGoodenough 05.28.20 at 1:30 pm

Sophie Jane @ 61

“To which I’d also add that John Holbo and the Crooked Timber mods have a responsibility here too, inasmuch as a post airing RD’s views for the sake of gentle scholarly mockery is becoming a polite and indirect debate about whether I should be killed. And it’s a largely one-sided debate, because the cost of participating for trans people (in time, energy, and distress) is so much greater than it is for the bigots being given a platform to spread their hatred.”

Indeed – trans rights are human rights, and one key part of the descriptor “trans people” is the “people” part. It is certainly interesting (for want of a better word) how quick some people are to jump to the defence of RD and co by falling over backwards to pretend it is entirely reasonable to suggest that queer and trans people should not exist.

Depressingly, many of the arguments now used against QT people are more-or-less exactly the same as those used against LGB people (and which were subsequently shown to be a bunch of steaming bull defecations). There is something darkly ironic in seeing RD argue that a minority with relatively little power and influence is opressing Christianity (an organisation with billions of followers, vast riches, armies of lobbyists, and – according to people like RD – the literal backing of a maximally powerful and knowledgeable God), and that they represent a fundemental threat to the very concept of truth. What next – human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria?

It is important to note, as you highlight, that this is not merely an academic debate on an esoteric point. We are talking about things which are – sadly all too frequently – literally a matter of life and death for people – it would be nice if that were remembered a little more frequently.

70

Sophie Jane 05.28.20 at 1:51 pm

@John Holbo

Oldster has their own axes to grind, evidently. For myself, I’d just like you (and the rest of the CT crowd, who I’ve been reading since the Iraq war) to reflect a little on the ways in which it’s possible to cause or perpetuate actual harm while still having the best intentions, and on the limitations of “encouraging civil debate” when you’re immune to the consequences.

71

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 2:16 pm

Well, I’m off to bed.

I still don’t really understand why mocking RD is such a bad thing I think it may be that we disagree about whether he intends (but won’t confess he intends) the things his views imply. My view is that he genuinely does not appreciate the implications of his view and would not embrace those implications if they were made clear to him.

ph, “you manipulate and elide evidence in a transparently dull effort to transform ordinary people into monsters – as you did when you described BK as a serial sexual predator.”

Evidence, please. Is this about that Bayesian analysis I did?

72

Sophie Jane 05.28.20 at 2:38 pm

I’m so sorry – a cut-and-paste error meant your name ended up on my previous post instead of mine. Not an intentional thing.

73

oldster [not the actual oldster, just someone taking my name, presumably to keep things clear - oldster] 05.28.20 at 3:21 pm

I have been accused of having my “own axes go grind,” and I must repudiate this scurrilous calumny in the most forceful way possible.

This is false! I have no axes. I have neither an X axis nor a Y axis. I have no XY plane, nor an XXY or XYY plane, either.

In me, nothing is orthogonal to anything, nor have I any depth or breadth. All of this I deny and renounce. But neither am I dimensionless — at any rate, I am never punctual. I am simply beyond extension, and above elevation. Get thee behind me, spatial distinction.

74

MPAVictoria 05.28.20 at 3:45 pm

“As for RD, he’s not ‘advocating a police state’”
He isn’t for white straight christian people. He is for everyone else though.

75

bianca steele 05.28.20 at 3:55 pm

John Holbo:

But who are you mocking? As someone who believes Dreher’s ideology is essentially totalitarian and genocidal, I’m disappointed by your recourse to bare assertion, whenever you jump from “this part of Dreher’s argument is quite reasonable, you must agree!” to “unfortunately, he wants to kill people.”

I know all too well how people like Dreher (and many more evidently sane and stable than him) finesse that leap and I don’t know who needs to have it reiterated by someone whose apparent motive is simple clear mockery.

76

Stephen 05.28.20 at 5:37 pm

faustusnotes@50: “RD’s entire body of work is an exercise in saying we should kill LGBTQ people – or at least repress them so thoroughly that functionally they don’t exist – without actually saying it, for the “reasonable” conservatives like Stephen up above, who want the same ends but don’t want to admit it publicly”.

I cannot answer for RD. If you are seriously insisting, as opposed to being voluntarily intoxicated to the point where you have no idea what drivel trickles out of your lips, that I want to kill LGBTQ people or repress them to the point where they don’t exist, I would ask you to apologetically retract your words, or find something, anything I have ever written that could justify that.

I should remind you that what I actually wrote above @45 was a comment that revolutionary instability as advocated by Jerry, tends to involve the deaths of a large number of innocent people. To which Jerry very reasonably replied “I will have to confess that I may not have been entirely serious in my original post. ”

I would expect you to be rather more emphatic.

77

J-D 05.28.20 at 11:08 pm

I see John Holbo is trying to prompt ph to responsiveness.

It seems a good time to remember the advice of WC Fields (I quote from memory):
‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
‘Then quit. No sense being a damn fool about it.’

78

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 11:21 pm

Bianca Steele,

“But who are you mocking? As someone who believes Dreher’s ideology is essentially totalitarian and genocidal, I’m disappointed by your recourse to bare assertion, whenever you jump from “this part of Dreher’s argument is quite reasonable, you must agree!” to “unfortunately, he wants to kill people.”

Sorry, which part do you want me to fill in? The claim that his ideology is ‘essentially’ totalitarian and genocidal is tricky. It is, logically, soft totalitarian (but not genocidal) by implication. But RD is unaware of this and would, I think, not accept it if it were pointed out. So he doesn’t really want to kill people. He wants results that can only come around by oppressing people, but he doesn’t want to want anything that fits that description.

Where do I make the jump you critique, in your eyes?

79

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 11:25 pm

No big deal, Sophie, I edited it to match your regular screen name.

80

John Holbo 05.28.20 at 11:33 pm

Some commenters upthread – Tom, for example – are wondering whether there might be something to the ‘why won’t they just leave me in peace?’ rhetoric. Maybe RD is right about something, or maybe he could be right next week, or next year, potentially? The basic problem with that is this: RD does not see that the things he is advocating are, by implication, soft totalitarian. He thinks he’s the one fighting courageously against that, for religious liberty. He’s confused about that, but a knock-on effect is that he just doesn’t get that people are understandably concerned if someone is, by implication, advocating soft totalitarian measures be taken against them. Since he isn’t aware of the implications of his own claims, he’s not aware of how they are justifiably alarming to others. So when others get alarmed he just digs in on the ‘they’re coming to get us!’ point.

Now, some of you will say: oh, he KNOWS. He’s just playing dumb. I think he doesn’t. He’s caught in a dilemma and, to deal with it, he isn’t considering the implications of what he advocates.

81

bianca steele 05.28.20 at 11:59 pm

JH@78

Where is the jump that I see in your argument? D wants a society where his church is free to act as it likes, in all ways, and where everybody either belongs to his church or acts in ways he thinks his church thinks they should act. There are plenty of people who think this will happen if you just let everybody do their own thing. There are people who think a laissez-faire approach will result in their church being on top, and everybody else being subordinated, but in a rational way that doesn’t involve compulsion.

There are people who think that because their church is “natural,” or the equivalent, what it does isn’t totalitarian. They probably think those of us who are afraid that they’re a hair’s breadth away from totalitarianism are just haters who put our identity above our willingness to engage in solidarity with their oh-so-obvious version of Gospel Truth.

So why wouldn’t they think anyone who could go with them from A to B couldn’t sincerely believe they were wrong to continue to C? Anyone who appeared to must be only pretending! The whole point of the thing must be to poke fun at the dumb identity-ridden haters.

The thousands of ways of calling compulsion “free will”, and sniffing out unwillingness in an apparently voluntary act, are just icing on that cake.

82

John Holbo 05.29.20 at 2:10 am

bianca, that’s the jump in RD’s argument, we agree. But where’s the jump in my argument, as you see it? You have me defending the reasonableness of RD’s claims, then admitting he wants to kill people. I don’t think I do either. I don’t think RD’s claims are reasonable. I don’t admit he wants to kill people, as such. So where do you see me leaping, invalidly, from one point I think I never occupy, to another point I think I never occupy. I don’t see me anywhere in your critique of me.

83

bianca steele 05.29.20 at 3:45 am

JH@82

Your jump is that you assert D is totalitarian without giving an argument. Presumably that’s bad (I suppose for you even if it falls short of genocide). But D is already afraid of liberals calling him totalitarian. I expect you to say why or I’m going to suspect you think he’s right about people like me, especially given the kind of comments section you seem invariably to end up with. I’m going to suspect you’re trying to create a dividing line between good religious-supremacists and bad religious-supremacists, the latter being totalitarian, the former being nothing really to fear.

Your not providing that reason suggests rhetorical whimsicality that is out of place given the topic. At best.

84

John Holbo 05.29.20 at 5:52 am

“Your jump is that you assert D is totalitarian without giving an argument.”

Well, what would you call the Department of Homeland Metanarrative Security?

“I’m going to suspect you’re trying to create a dividing line between good religious-supremacists and bad religious-supremacists”

What would a good religious-supremacist be, according to me, according to you?

85

steven t johnson 05.29.20 at 1:27 pm

Confession, first: Years ago I subscribed to the erratic journal “Lies of Our Times,” dedicated to the New York Times. As for the Times itself, occasionally I contemplated finding out how to get it in the moral wastelands where I live for the crosswords….but I was always dispirited at the thought I would have to read the paper. Spending so much money for crosswords, how foolish!

But in the discussion the term “totalitarian” keeps popping up. It may be a commonplace that definitions are BS. But it seems likely enough that Dreher thinks totalitarianism is mere humans daring to impose their innately fallible and self-serving schemes upon society. You know, like the monster Robespierre or Bolsheviks.

Since there is no true moral knowledge, genuine moral authority, whether consciously realized or not, is rooted in transcendental authority. And I suspect the firm belief is, those who claim there are merely touting skepticism are simply adding the verbal equivalent of fig leaves. The fig leaf may cover the ugly truth…but when the ugly part is ready to stand and deliver, the fig leaf will stop nothing.

But since definitions are BS, totalitarianism is also something like the command to follow the transcendental authority in all things, presumably because it is transcendental. Since it is also beyond reason by definition, such normative authority is a totalitarian imposition. This is especially true when in practice, transcendental authority is a fig leaf for the status quo, the old order, vices beloved from time immemorial.

Such unseemly squabbles should be resolved by focusing on the common ground: Both Rod Dreher and John Holbo are united in their opposition to totalitarianism. The rest is trivia.

86

Rob 05.29.20 at 2:27 pm

Is there a version of Dreher’s argument which doesn’t end in repression and murder? Stephen seems to think there is, as does (one presumes) Dreher and his regular audience.

I am reminded of the two-step of terrific triviality. Dreher wants to make the respectable argument that important social virtues are imperilled by rampant “transgenderism”, ignoring the obvious conclusion that since “transgenderism” is just the belief that transgender people ought to be treated decently, it can only be opposed by those willing to treat transgender people less-than-decently, a group he does not wish to admit being a member of.

The conclusion could be avoided if “transgenderism” were given some more precise definition – say, a much stronger belief in a particular biological or cultural basis for gender identities, about which reasonable people can disagree. Then Dreher could indeed condemn that particular narrow belief without it implying that he wishes harm on transgender people per se. But then it would cease to serve its purpose as a catch-all label for how people these days don’t follow Dreher’s preferred sexual norms, so he won’t do that either.

This leaves us trying to solve the problem of “would Lord Protector Dreher really stone the trans people?” for ourselves, and I can see why people find this distasteful (as I do myself, once I think of it in those terms).

John’s point (as I understand it) is that Dreher’s argument is fatally self-contradictory, since it implies actions that Dreher can’t bring himself to support, and this is true. But this contradiction must be intentional. He must know that at some point that in order to get what he wants he’s going to have to make an omelette, or at least hire a sufficiently determined chef. If he’s refusing to resolve the contradiction, then Occam’s razor says that it’s because he doesn’t want to tell people that he’s happy to bring harm to others, and he’s not particularly bothered about the degree of harm that may be required. An attitude of detached bemusement at his confused argumentation does seem just a little soft.

I leave open the possibility of other interpretations: in particular, that Dreher genuinely fears some grotesque “transgenderism”, which has among its tenets the belief that, say, biological sex is an imaginary construct imposed by the Church, or something equally daft. Does anyone have any idea of what this might be? If so, perhaps one could engage with him by disabusing him of this notion. I’m not counting on it, though.

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Hidari 05.29.20 at 3:08 pm

@85

‘ As right-wing populism has surged around the world in recent years, the term (totalitarianism) has had something of a renaissance. Hannah Arendt’s 1951 classic The Origins of Totalitarianism became a best seller again after Donald Trump’s election in November 2016.

This uptick in the term’s use runs counter to the trend among historians, for whom the idea of totalitarianism carries increasingly little weight. Many of us see the term primarily as polemical, used more to discredit governments than to offer meaningful analyses of them…

But the fact that historians who study such governments eschew the term totalitarianism, even as it enjoys wide public currency, points not only to a disconnect between the academy and the general public, but also to a problem that Americans have in thinking about dictatorship. …

In my own area of research, Germany after World War II, totalitarianism plays a fraught role. During the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, politicians, journalists, and scholars all painted East Germany as a totalitarian government on par with the Nazi state. But that characterization is simply wrong. For instance, the East German and Nazi secret police forces, the Stasi and the Gestapo, functioned in fundamentally different ways….

This brings us back to current usage. The problem is that the term totalitarian fulfills two quite different purposes. The first, as just discussed, is taxonomic: for scholars, it has helped frame an effort to understand the nature of various twentieth-century regimes. And in this function, it finally seems to be reaching the end of its useful life.

But the term’s other purpose is ideological and pejorative, the outgrowth of a Cold War desire to classify fascist and communist dictatorships as essentially the same phenomenon. To catalog a state as totalitarian it to say it is radically other, sealed off from the liberal, capitalist, democratic order that we take to be normal. When we call a state totalitarian, we are saying that its goals are of a categorically different sort than those of our own government—that it seeks, as Gessen suggests, to destroy human dignity.

The ideological work that the term totalitarian performs is significant, providing a sleight-of-hand by which to both condemn foreign regimes and deflect criticism of the regime at home. By claiming that dictatorship and democracy are not simply opposed but categorically different, it disables us from recognizing the democratic parts of dictatorial rule and the authoritarian aspects of democratic rule, and thus renders us less capable of effectively diagnosing problems in our own society.’

http://bostonreview.net/politics/samuel-clowes-huneke-end-totalitarianism

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bianca steele 05.29.20 at 3:48 pm

JH@84

It seems “the department of metanarrative security” is your own invention, which you’ve projected onto D. He links to someone who says something about metanarratives, and you deduce that has to mean he wants a government agency enforcing the correct metanarrative. When pressed, you say only that you’re “mocking.” Are you mocking D, or are you mocking a positive public of liberals out there somewhere who, you suggest, use logic as bad as that? But obviously you don’t mean that first part of the comment seriously.

As for the second part, I can only outline some versions of religious supremacy you do not touch with the argument you do offer:

That some form of coercion short (in your view) of totalitarianism would be acceptable to impose a “preferred” metanarrative. Maybe what parenting manuals call “natural consequences,” the result of power differentials, the marketplace of ideas, or the inevitable victory of truth. Under some theory, perhaps there’s always one “preferred” metanarrative, whether or not someone conspires to impose it. Maybe it’s to be taken for granted, and it’s impolite to suggest it is wrong; maybe it’s considered polite for those who are happy with the situation to lament it while enjoying its benefits and doing nothing to change the situation, or even to entertain arguments against it.
That there’s no form of coercion short of totalitarianism, not even any form of deciding where to go for dinner, that doesn’t involve one person or group dominating another person or group in a way that violates their right to flourish as “God or nature” made them to require. Then D would be right to see that requiring home schoolers to teach algebra to teenage girls who will become housewives and teenage boys who will become farmers, and preventing the state from requiring every child to learn a Christian Catechism, is literally totalitarianism directed against those whom “God or nature” made like him. Therefore it would be unseemly for liberals, who are successfully imposing totalitarianism on D, not to be loudly guilty over that fact. It would be important for people like you to mock liberals in order to goad them into realizing how cruel we are being to conservatives like D. The only mockery to be directed at D would be over his claim that he can distinguish non-totalitarian coercion. In any case, we are all as “God or nature” made us, and even the gentlest suggestion that we reconsider one of our beliefs, or consider how we’ve caused pain to another person, is a personal attack.

(Notice my careful use of the subjunctive and the conditional here. I know it makes me look “elitist,” but maybe you should give it a try. I do recognize that it’s very, very difficult to anticipate the misunderstandings of people who think saying “there has to be a transcendantal authority, it’s only logical,” actually logically and morally implies “the religious rules my parents taught me are binding on you.”)

Between those various extreme positions is lots and lots of room for metanarratives that say people only suffer if they’ve sinned, or that “moralizing” applies to a woman or atheist who makes an ethical pronouncement but not to a man, or to whatever one likes.

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bianca steele 05.29.20 at 3:51 pm

Somehow the “1.” and “2.” were deleted from the two options in my previous comment. I see them in the comment box before I post, along with the blank line between them, so not sure what happened there.

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John Holbo 05.30.20 at 12:14 am

bianca, I don’t see the problem. I am mocking RD because his view has two features: he is exquisitely over-sensitive to any ‘liberal’ attempt to impose views on him; he is profoundly oblivious to the fact that his favored political outcomes involve him imposing his views on others in just the way that he abominates, when anyone else does it. He does not understand that this differential presumption of privilege is, itself, driving much of the hostility to his position and that the result he wants – namely, people not being hostile to him – could, to a considerable degree, be achieved by simply dropping his own inconsistencies and adopting a live-and-let-live, equal rights policy. But he does not LIKE that result, because he would prefer to a bit more hegemony for his side. So, round again we go. That is my view of RD.

The reason I make fun by means of Departments of Metanarrative Security and such is that, because the nub of the issue is so unfavorable to him, he is always wandering off to the periphery, with the unintentionally absurd result that he ends up nominally very bothered by peripheral issues like: is someone somewhere entertaining skeptical metaphysical propositions.

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JanieM 05.30.20 at 12:40 am

JH: he would prefer to a bit more hegemony for his side

Just a bit more?

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SusanC 05.30.20 at 12:43 am

Europe has in the past had something like the hypothetical Department of Metanarrative Security, in the form of trials for heresy. (Perhaps John was expecting the reader to make that connection). So we have some idea of how it might operate…

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J-D 05.30.20 at 12:57 am

Evaluation of Dreher’s actions (in writing and getting published the piece he wrote and got published) should take account of the natural and predictable consequences of those actions, regardless of whether those consequences were his conscious purpose (just as should be the case for evaluation of anybody’s actions; intent is not magic). Those natural and predictable consequences include making the world a worse place for trans people by making them feel disrespected, discomfited, and threatened (more than they otherwise would), and if Dreher didn’t/doesn’t know that, he should have/do. Dreher does not say, in precisely these words ‘Trans people make the world a worse place by existing in it, by being trans, by seeking or expecting acceptance as trans; their existence in the world as trans people should not be accepted’, but what he has done is equivalent because the natural and predictable effect on (many) readers is equivalent. He has done a bad deed by wantonly inflicting harm on vulnerable people, and it’s not an excuse for the evil he has done if he didn’t mean to do it, since he should have known what he was doing.

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LFC 05.30.20 at 1:08 am

Are we, meaning JH and some (not all) of the commentariat, making this more complicated than it is?

The basic “argument,” admittedly based on a fairly quick perusal, seems to be:
1) “Cultural stability” is a good thing, and so is “transcendental authority” (whatever that phrase means, exactly).
2) Calling the “truths” of biology into question, as those truths apply to sex/gender roles, upsets cultural stability.
3) Trans “activists” (and associated theorists) call those “truths” of biology into question.
4) Therefore they (the trans etc.) upset cultural stability and are bad.

So the crucial move in the argument is linking “cultural stability” to the “truths” of biology. Is that linkage valid or defensible? I think (almost certainly) not.

Tl;dr: It’s the old conservative panic about sex and sex (or gender) roles dressed up with a lot of hand-waving language.

And finally: RD says he read Eksteins’ Rites of Spring and no doubt he did read it, but all you have to do is open the book almost at random and you begin to wonder whether RD can have understood it. Open the book to pp.185ff. and you find a quite scathing analysis of how what Eksteins calls middle-class or bourgeois values (effort, perseverance, methodicalness, and, one might perhaps add, lack of imagination) underlay and contributed to the enormous human toll of the Western Front. What does this have to do with the opening chapter, on the Ballets Russes and Nijinsky and modernism and eroticism and all that? As far as I can tell, not much, though I haven’t read the whole book so maybe it gets connected up. But the point is, you can’t read a detailed and sensitive cultural history and proceed to ransack it for evidence that might support your particular set of prejudices and skewed reading of the historical record, which istm is probably what RD has done here.

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steven t johnson 05.30.20 at 1:20 am

Hidari@87 Well, yes, of course historians trying to actually do history never could make any valid use of “totalitarianism.” But Hannah Arendt is still regarded as an awesome genius worthy of the closest study, by people highly respected by everyone else here. Believing in it as a true principle makes allies in the end, no matter how much squabbling over the details. And it this bizarre belief is still widespread in the most refined and scholarly circles of the academy that don’t have to actually use the concept of totalitarianism: They impose it, not as an idea, but as an ideology.

Boston Review seems to think the shamefaced reluctance of specialists to rely on such nonsense somehow means academia is the same as academia rejecting arrant nonsense. Whole neighborhoods of academia are rotten, shilling nonsense, no matter how enraged some parties get when this is pointed out. The ivory tower is there to furnish snipers’ nests, to target unacceptable ideas. Totatalitarianism is merely a bad idea…but it is a useful one. This Masha Gessen seems to be a nearly mindless reactionary but it is no accident that one of the most popular general journals of the educated, (the academy at home in its bathrobe,) is right-wing enough to give her a platform.

Lastly, it puzzles me why Boston Review thinks the Cold War is over. All politics in the US is premised on the absolute necessity of repressing Communism by any means necessary, at all costs, and has been since Truman offed the New Deal. As near as I can see, the academy is diligently working out ways to go backwards. It can be blatant like the career of Timothy Snyder or it can be subtle, like Bret Devereaux sowing confusion in the guse of critiquing the movie 300. But to my eyes, it’s constant.

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notGoodenough 05.30.20 at 2:37 am

[With apologies to everyone for highlighting some offensive rhetoric, I have read a few of Rod Dreher’s “greatest hits”. Content warning for homophobia and trans bigotry.]

Interestingly enough, RD is to a certain extent fairly open about his positions (AFAICT). On homosexuality he says he is willing to tolerate it[1], but he views legitimising it as a step towards allowing individuals to make decisions regarding their sexuality – which he refers to as “a profound distortion of what it means to be fully human”. Indeed he seems to view a Christian’s desires to eliminate homosexuality as equal to a homosexual individual’s desire not to be discriminated against. So he is not exactly that tolerant of even the LGB part.

On transgender issues, he goes much further – referring to an image of a transgender individual breastfeeding as an “evil distortion”[2]. Moreover, in a blog post titled “the insanity of transgenderism”, he refers to the people discussing transgender issues as “these insane people”[3] and quotes approvingly Amy Wellborn’s article which refers to transgender people as “suffering various forms of mental illness”[4]. So one can perhaps infer RD (who lacks any relevant qualifications to make such an assessment) believes, at best, being transgender is being mentally ill.

Moreover, violence against transgender people doesn’t appear to be something RD is particularly concerned about. One of his tweets [5] states “What a pathetic question (“What more will you do to stop violence against the transgender community?”).” Moreover in “The Phony ‘Epidemic’ Of Anti-Trans Murder”[6] he claims that “this is a phony “epidemic,” a fake “crisis,” entirely ginned up by LGBT activists and their allies in the news media to advance a political goal.” [7].

In short, I would say RD advocates for policies and positions which are harmful to LGBTQ people and engages in rhetoric which could even be considered “hate speech”, while stopping short of advocating for carrying out active harm[8].

One real tragedy is that as always the evidence based understanding of biology and psychology will be obscured by the incessant culture wars, as always the people actually affected by this will be talked over until sufficient numbers of sacrifices are made on the altar of normalisation, and as always it will be the minority in question that will suffer the most.

As it was in the days of LGB, so shall it be in the days of QT.

[1] From his now defunct previous blog, the full quote is “If homosexuality is legitimized — as distinct from being tolerated, which I generally support — then it represents the culmination of the sexual revolution, the goal of which was to make individual desire the sole legitimate arbiter in defining sexual truth. It is to lock in, and, on a legal front, to codify, a purely contractual, nihilistic view of human sexuality. I believe this would be a profound distortion of what it means to be fully human.”

[2] Taken from an interview found here: https://reconnectwithcarmen.com/conversation-rod-dreher-transgender-state-america/

Full quote “Transgenderism is here and it is pushing strongly through the schools. So many Americans need to look at this image of this bearded man-woman nursing a child and understand that this kind of distortion, this evil distortion, is being preached and taught in schools and in the culture as good.”

[3] Full quote These insane people are driving culture and even law. This stuff is only tangentially related to gay rights. It is possible to be for full rights for gay people, without having to endorse this kind of psychotic stuff.”

[4] Ironically, this means that by ph’s definitions RD who is “ordinary people” is actually guilty of hate speech and promoting hate speech to a far greater extent than CT ever has. I will leave the inferences of this as an exercise to the reader.

[5] Tweet found here: https://twitter.com/roddreher/status/1207858090235891712

Full quote “What a pathetic question (“What more will you do to stop violence against the transgender community?”). Why don’t you ask a serious question? Ask the candidates about the Maya Forstater situation. What wd they say to feminists who don’t buy trans narrative?”

[6] https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/phony-epidemic-anti-trans-murder/

[7] Of course, he gets the number of deaths wrong, ignores the caveats that deaths were actually likely higher than the official numbers (these are only the deaths actually reported on), and ignores that this should be considered as a percentage of the group. However, RD is generous enough to say “None of these people deserved to die. Every murder is a tragedy for the victim and those who loved him.” (which also nicely misgenders the dead, so well done to RD for insulting victims even while saying theirs deaths are a tragedy).

[8] On the other hand, the passive harm caused by “othering” LGBTQ people and making their lives unbearable (and forcing them back into the closet, or making suicide a preferable alternative) is something with which he seems perfectly comfortable.

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John Holbo 05.30.20 at 4:08 am

I agree that RD says or at least implies all the awful stuff notGoodenough says. I am unsure how much of it he is aware of implying, although he in the hook for that, too, in my book. But not as having intended it. He thinks that ‘all humans are equal, but some are more equal than others’ AND if anyone suggests saying so is totalitarian, that in itself would be totalitarian. At some point it’s just impossible to tell how the cognitive dissonance shakes out.

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John Quiggin 05.30.20 at 5:44 am

I find Dreher pretty much incomprehensible, so I can’t comment on the substantive post. But I want to give a big cheer for “long twitter threads, even if they are direct in their way, are such a mockery of literary form. Like serving a pint of beer in a long row of eyedroppers”

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Collin Street 05.30.20 at 7:32 am

At some point it’s just impossible to tell how the cognitive dissonance shakes out.

I think he defines it out of existence. This sentence seems key:
. Rather, it is to destabilize as potentially oppressive any claim to transcendent truth or value.

He is making transcendent claims, and transcendent claims are not subject to review or critique.

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Hidari 05.30.20 at 8:03 am

@94

‘ Totatalitarianism is merely a bad idea…but it is a useful one.’

I disagree. It is literally an attempt by intellectuals to argue that things which seem to be, and which in fact are, literally, opposites are ‘really’ and ‘when you think about it’ the same. It is the very definition of arid scholasticism. (‘Well I know to the untutored eye, dogs and cats seem to be very different, but to moi, the sophisticated intellectual, I can of course see that they are in fact exactly the same…..here let me demonstrate my tremendously clever reasoning, before your astonished plebeian eyes.’).

‘Lastly, it puzzles me why Boston Review thinks the Cold War is over. ‘

I don’t think they are. They are arguing that the ideological war with Russia is over (although some Democrats didn’t get the memo, cough cough Russiagate cough), but the US will always have enemies who it ‘has to’ defeat because the Americans need a reason to justify their expansionism. Note how, after flailing about in the 1990s (the ‘war on drugs’ was a good attempt, but too many Americans took drugs for it to really work), the New Cold War against radical Islam was effortlessly created after 9/11, which in turn, is now seamlessly, albeit incoherently (from an intellectual point of view), turning into the New New Cold War on China.

If anything I thought that article was far too kind: if, following Wittgenstein, the meaning of a word is in its use, we can quickly see that totalitarian really means ‘any state which opposes the interests of the US.’

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LFC 05.30.20 at 2:21 pm

What, in Dreher’s view, does it mean “to be fully human” (see passage quoted by notGoodenough above), and is Dreher’s view on this point a reasonable, defensible and/or philosophically attractive one?

IMHO those would be more interesting questions for Holbo to address than to concentrate on picking apart contradictions in RD”s view of who gets to impose values on whom. After all, the only reason, presumably, those contradictions arise is that RD is trying to get to a result that defends or promotes his particular notion of what it means to be “fully human”. So why not go to the heart of the matter and ask whether his basic beliefs and commitments actually make sense or are philosophically attractive? Assuming you’re going to spend time engaging with him at all, which JH clearly is, one way or another.

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bianca steele 05.30.20 at 3:52 pm

“At some point it’s just impossible to tell how the cognitive dissonance shakes out.”

I think it’s fair to say there’s a 100% chance it will shake out in intensified patriarchy.

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John Holbo 05.31.20 at 2:24 am

“IMHO those would be more interesting questions for Holbo to address than to concentrate on picking apart contradictions in RD”s view of who gets to impose values on whom. After all, the only reason, presumably, those contradictions arise is that RD is trying to get to a result that defends or promotes his particular notion of what it means to be “fully human”. So why not go to the heart of the matter and ask whether his basic beliefs and commitments actually make sense or are philosophically attractive? Assuming you’re going to spend time engaging with him at all, which JH clearly is, one way or another.”

I prefer not to do this because RD is actually strongest on this ground because he has a bottomless pile of mystery cards to draw on, and a thick stack of ‘natural law’ cards as well. He can always say his view is based on faith, therefore inherently respectable. Also, something-something natural law complicated christian anthropology something. If you go into that wood, you lose because you get lost. It’s not like you are really going to come clear out on the other side. No, the main issue is: do you have the right to impose your Christian anthopology on non-Christian fellow citizens?

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J-D 05.31.20 at 8:39 am

He can always say his view is based on faith, therefore inherently respectable.

And I can always say that his view is based on faith, therefore inherently dubious. Positions based on evidence are more respectable than positions adhered to regardless of evidence. He doesn’t say that his view is based in faith and my guess is that he’s not confident in his ability to attract support to a position argued on explicitly Christian grounds; instead he pretends it has foundations which are not explicitly Christian, but why accept that’s any more than a pretence?

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steven t johnson 05.31.20 at 1:33 pm

Hidari@100 perhaps is arguing against “Yes!” for an answer?

The incoherence of “totalitarianism” in all guises makes it a bad idea. But its amalgam of opposites is exactly what makes it so useful to intellectuals. For one thing, it leaves those so inclined to imagine they are the “Left.” It’s the tasteful version of the Overton Window.

As to the other point of agreement/disagreement? The article is about explaining how “totalitarianism” is a failed idea, as if Hannah Arendt and J.L. Talmon are dust in the wind like Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee, and there’s no relevance. Especially not the kind of relevance where the respectable people could be accused of foisting a malignant ideology on the gullible. If anyone’s dust, it’s Sheldon Wolin, with his word games about “inverted totalitarianism.” Trying to remember Talmon’s name, I googled writers on totalitarianism (https://www.google.com/search?source=hp&ei=kKzTXrCdFMi4tQbQnLygCQ&q=writers+on+totalitarianism&oq=writers+on+totalitarianism&gs_lcp=CgZwc3ktYWIQAzIFCCEQoAE6AggAOgUIABCDAToECAAQCjoGCAAQFhAeOgcIIRAKEKABUJIQWI4zYI81aABwAHgAgAGvAYgBgRqSAQQwLjI2mAEAoAEBqgEHZ3dzLXdpeg&sclient=psy-ab&ved=0ahUKEwiwpfWelt7pAhVIXM0KHVAOD5QQ4dUDCAk&uact=5) complete with a handy row of portraits. It was amazing how even google could find so few opponents of fascism.

As to the relevance of totalitarianism today, Masha Gessen certainly disagrees.
As I recall, the president of the US addressed the UN with a denunciation of socialism, prompting the left darling E. Warren to announce she was “capitalist to the bone,” which I heard as “rotten to the bone,” but that’s just me. But it’s not just Trump, the US government officially declared China a non-market economy, on the correct grounds that the “state,” by which they mean the Communist Party, not capital markets, are still the decider-in-chief. The government declares they are dead opposed to the Chinese government directing technology beyond what the world market deems fitting.

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bianca steele 05.31.20 at 7:21 pm

J-D @ 104: Exactly.

I’d add: He claims he speaks for God, and therefore all Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as well as adherents of other religious traditions, must agree with him on moral and anthropological questions.

And he claims his religion encompasses all secular knowledge and legitimate scholarly traditions, and therefore all scholars and experts must agree with him, as well.

What are the conditions under which someone who claims to be infallible on some matter or other should be engaged with? Are there no criteria whatsoever for evaluating what he says?

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Collin Street 05.31.20 at 11:28 pm

And I can always say that his view is based on faith, therefore inherently dubious.

The whole point of the exercise is that he doesn’t want you to be able to do that. Have a look at my earlier post.

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JanieM 05.31.20 at 11:57 pm

He claims he speaks for God

So do a lot of other people. If I were God, this would be the original, and possibly only, sin.

And he claims his religion encompasses all secular knowledge and legitimate scholarly traditions, and therefore all scholars and experts must agree with him, as well.

Modest guy, isn’t he.

Bianca, I’ve appreciated your comments in this thread. They’ve helped me follow along better than I can sometimes follow a JH thread.

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