Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bastille Day

Yesterday was Bastille Day, a holiday that grows more bittersweet with each passing year.
I am, as far as that goes, a totally unreconstructed Catholic: I hate Reformation and Enlightenment alike; I am a Distributist.
Still for all this, I am not really a reactionary; I am not even a monarchist.
Nevertheless, we live in a reactionary age; and it is good for us to recognize this.
The sins and evils of our civilization have been piled up so high that they are now impossible to overlook or ignore. The politics of the present and near future will be largely or entirely premised on reactions to this present state of affairs, and its evils. For some, this will be a recipe for outrage, an endless reactionary anger that will search far and wide, through both the past and the future, for weapons to mock and destroy and undo--in this, there will be less and less difference between progressive and conservative reactionaries. For others, it will lead to despair, and all that comes with it, especially a blind and desperate willingness to submit and accept and surrender to anything or anyone that promises meaning or escape. For many, perhaps the majority, it will simply require better drugs, easier comforts, the first and vileest of which is arrogance, and the most human of which is perhaps irony.
These are not discrete categories; they will be difficult to tell apart, as indeed they already are. Trump channeled outrage, appealed to despair, and in practice gave entertainment: in this, he found a winning combination which the mavens of #theresistance are already employing for their own purposes. These are, I think, the basic elements of our future politics; and since American politics is consensus politics by necessity, they will rarely be found in their purity.
Still, these are all, in their essence, reactionary stances, and reactionary forms of politics. They are premised on the presence and unavoidability of unbearable evils. They are little more than the various poles of the Lost Cause.
There are grave dangers that come with reaction, though; and the greatest of all is the loss of any balanced, human perspective on reality, any real attempt to come to grips with the world as it is, and how one ought to live in it. The future, though, will belong, in the end, to those who can in fact do so; those who have some vision of the New Jerusalem on which to build, not those who can do no more than squabble in the ashes of Babylon.
But there is also a less grave, but still important, danger that comes with reaction; that we will do grave injustice to our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers: that we will lose all sight of, and all touch with, whatever good truly existed in our civilization.
Everyone these days is talking about liberalism--though usually under the aspect of that amorphous and unbearable status quo of neoliberalism, or the even more degraded and repulsive substitute of libertarianism. For libertarianism is simply liberalism without liberality--that is, without any of the genuine sympathy and humanity that made the ideologies of the Enlightenment even remotely bearable by human beings. Neoliberalism, on the other hand, is simply liberalism without liberty.
We have lost, as a civilization, any sense of what was once meant by liberty, as well as any idea as to why such a thing would ever be desirable. In this, those who defend liberalism commit the gravest injustices of all.
Those who defend liberalism today are generally engaged in defending technological power, technocratic knowledge and control, and universal moral indifference. The boons of freedom they defend generally boil down, at the end of the day, to their own individual ability to live in luxury, moral wantonness, and disregard for the sufferings of others.
Worshiping liberty in this sense is simply the worship of negation, if it is not simply the worship of the self.
This is not, of course, a new ideology in itself; indeed, in the trueest sense, it is as old as the Garden of Eden. Nor is it exactly new to our civilization, whose crimes and abominations of at its height are past recounting. In this, liberalism was all too often often nothing more than a convenient ideology of the powerful and the immoral: slave-owners and Imperialists and eugenicists and robber-barons.
But for all this, there was something else, too, that our civilization once possessed: something that made men fight and bleed and die and suffer to free slaves and build Republics and gain rights and welfare for the poor. This was not precisely liberalism, as we now understand it and speak about it; but it was, at its heart, a love of liberty. And is there anyone today who can even understand this liberty, let alone defend it?
Men of the past lived a life they saw as basically good and desirable; something worth aspiring to, and dying for. They lived in families and communities, with songs and traditions and histories and legends. They grew up, married, worked and ate their daily bread, prayed and worshiped, suffered and died. And in this life, they saw it as desirable that they be free from certain evils, from certain bonds, that made such a life impossible or unbearable. If men were subject to a King who recognized no rights save his own, who stole from and imprisoned his people and did violence to them, then they should be set free from him; if men were slaves, subject to beatings and violence and the breaking-up of their families and the iron laws of the market, they should be set free from this; if men were imprisoned in factories and company towns, paid starvation wages or else left to die in masses according to the whims of their employers, they should be set free from this, too. Perhaps, even, in a Republic such things would be less likely to happen; perhaps, in a Republic, the rights of all could be guarded, so that they could live well. In any event, Republic or no, there should be freedom.
As a perspective on life, this is lacking in many important ways; it is far too naturalistic for the Catholic Church and the supernatural goals and desires she brings with her. It too easily and quickly degenerates into a mere comfort and luxury, producing a disregard for the sufferings of all those who are despised or hated or safely out of sight. Then, too, all too often it trusts far too much in the goodness and decency of man, and the stability of human life in this world; it is easy for it to believe that it needs no help, no grace, and no penance for sins.
And, yes, too, there were certain arrogant, "enlightened philosophers" who supposedly argued for liberty and were inseparable from it--though oddly enough, most of these were fervent supporters of tyranny.
But when all was said and done, there is a reason why men fought and died and suffered for our civilization--because they loved their fellow men, and because they loved liberty. Not because they loved technocracy, or because they loved a libertarian ideology of the absolute validity of contracts, or because they loved their own absolute autonomy and power, or because they loved that ultimate moral indifference that allowed them to care nothing for the sorrows and sufferings of others. They died because they loved their homes and their families and their children and their nation; and because they wished these things to be free.
It is well that we should remember this.

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