Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Schopenhauer Sham Smashing Award :
Joe Sobran - Excerpts -National Review 1985

God and Religion

To appreciate, on the other hand, is to imagine the real, to discover use, value, beauty, order, purpose in what already exists; and this is the kind of imagination most appropriate to creatures, which shouldn't confuse themselves with the Creator

There is no institution from which the progressive is so deeply alienated as from religion--or, as he calls it, "organized" religion, as if religion would be all right if only believers avoided association with each other.

For this reason, religion is a source of deep anxiety to the liberal. He harps on its historical sins: Crusades, Inquisitions, witch burnings, wars. He never notices that the crimes of atheist regimes, in less than a century, have dwarfed those of all organized religions in recorded history.

The liberal's ill-disguised uneasiness with religion recalls C.S. Lewis's remark that some people say they dislike Milton's God when they really mean they dislike God.

The liberal regime is one of virtual atheism; though it professes agnosticism, as if this were a form of neutrality between belief and unbelief, it constantly enlarges the range of the things that are Caesar's at the expense of the things that are God's.

Modern Man

A modern man who has lost the faith of his fathers will still, if he is morally sane, treasure the heritage of that faith--not only the art of Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, and Mozart, but the philosophy, science, law, and general manners that have been generated by belief in a good Creator Who made man in His image and gave His only Son to redeem our sinful race. Only a boor could write all that off as bad or vain.

Consciousness and Mystery

Most of the world is a mystery.
Consciousness is a little clearing in a vast forest; Every individual has his own special relation to the area of mystery, his own little discoveries to impart. Human beings are mysteries; they deserve to be respected as mysteries, not stripped open like a cellophane package.


I often get the feeling that what is wrong with political discussion in general is that it is dominated by narrow malcontents who take their bearings not from images of health and happiness but from statistical suffering. They always seem to want to "eliminate" something--poverty, racism, and war--instead of settling for fostering other sorts of things it is beyond their power actually to produce.

Shakespeare was well acquainted with alienation; several of his major characters are social malcontents. Their moral reflex conditioned by liberalism, America today is incapable of such objectivity about evildoers bearing credentials as victims.

Man doesn't really create anything. We don't sit godlike above the world, omniscient and omnipotent. We find ourselves created, placed somehow in the midst of things that we here before us, related to them in particular ways.

If we can't delight in our situation, we are off on the wrong foot. More and more I find myself thinking that a conservative is someone who regards this world with a basic affection, and wants to appreciate it as it is before he goes on to the always-necessary work of making some rearrangements.

For some reason, we have allowed the malcontent to assume moral prestige. The malcontent can be spotted in his little habits of speech: He praises as "compassion" what the conservative earthily sees as a program of collectivization.

"We must build out of existing materials," says Burke. Oakeshott laments that "the politics of repair" has been supplanted by "the politics of destruction and creation." It is typical of malcontent (or "utopian") politics to destroy what it has failed to appreciate while falsely promising to create.

Patience and humility aren't the marks of the malcontent. He is too busy making war on poverty to think of making his peace with prosperity:

The point of all this is not just to censure the malcontent for failing to come to terms with this world.

Alien, Alienism and the Alienist

Alienism will settle for nothing less than the complete inversion of the normal perspective. Jean-Francois Revel catches the theme in an arresting remark: "Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is working to destroy it." The native in the West has accepted the Alienist critique with remarkable passivity; his morale is at an all-time low. He regards it as his duty to tolerate, without even voicing an objection, people who want to destroy his way of life, prey on his children, and desecrate everything he used to hold sacred.

The development of civility in this specific form has been going on for a long time now, and John Murray Cuddihy points out that for certain "latecomers to modernity," accustomed to more intimate cultural surroundings with few sophisticated differentiations, the impersonality of civil life can become "the ordeal of civility." Such people tend to favor a politics that promises more immediate emotional rewards than mere civility can offer: warmth, brotherhood, compassion, the solace of a political leadership that "cares about the little man." And people in this state of mind can only experience civility as coldness, inhumanity, and alienation.

Alienism: a prejudice in favor of the alien, the marginal, the dispossesed, the eccentric, reaching an extreme in the attempt to "build a new society" by destroying the basic institutions of the native. The most terrible fulfillment of this principle is Communism. Put another way, liberalism cultivates alienation. It does so because it has become a form of alienation. It has a heavy investment in estrangement.

It is primarily interested in emergencies and social pathologies, and it makes policy prescriptions on the basis of abnormal situations, with no concern for the possible impact on the normal. It finds disease everywhere, without offering a useful image of health. And its remedies aggravate real diseases: redistribution, "gay rights," abortion on demand, appeasement--none of these policies has kept are promises, but liberalism was never really interested in the results.

It would be natural to assume that Nativism would be more destructive, because native forces would seem to be better situated in most cases to destroy the alien than alien forces to destroy the native. But for some reason history hasn't worked out that way. What is plain, at any rate, is that Alienism is far from a marginal force. It offers malcontents of all sorts an ideology or gnosis that enables them to interpret normal life maliciously as a crude though somewhat disguised struggle between oppressors and victims.

If the oppression isn't obvious, that is because the oppressors are so cunning and their victims so totally subjugated that even their perceptual powers are in thrall.

Liberalism and Marxism are variant forms of Alienism; so are feminism and "gay liberation," for that matter. Liberalism does all it can to accommodate its sister ideologies without overtly endorsing them; and it is bound to insist that the real peril to humanity is always some form of Nativism. This accounts for its obsession with the Nazi period, its endless search for old Nazis, its wild alarm over the most eccentric expression of neo-Nazism, and above all its attempts to link its enemies with Nazism.

And yet the Alienist disposition is so preoccupied with the hard case that it will sacrifice the family in order to succor the orphan.

There is no militant Nativism to speak of in America; but there is militant Alienism, and it has power not only in the law but in the current culture propagated by the media and the academy. The very fact that Alienism was nameless until I came along, while there were a dozen words, all invidious, for Nativist attitudes, shows how thoroughly entrenched the Alienist perspective is.

The very meaning of Alienism's vocabulary has changed in keeping with the success of its aggression against traditional America.

Mister Fix It- Failure Mixed with Good Intentions

Only a madman, one might think, would dare to speak of changing the entire milieu -- "building a new society" -- or even to speak as if such a thing were possible. And yet this is the current political idiom.
It is seriously out of touch with a set of traditions whose good effects it takes too much for granted; it fails to appreciate them, as it fails to appreciate the human situation.

Though he speaks the language of environmental preservation well enough, he never pauses to imagine the "environmental impact" of his own policies on a social ecology that is, after all, no less real because he disregards it.

The liberal has no specific objection to totalitarianism for the simple reason that he is already operating on totalitarian premises.

"In the manifest failure of their abilities, they take credit for their intentions."

But the conservative knows that the dream itself is guilty. It springs from a failure to appreciate the real, and to give thanks.

The average American increasingly sees that the Alienist impulse, as expressed in the liberal agenda, has been destructive and sometimes disastrous.
Liberalism's promise of a "Great Society" has not been kept; it has become a sour joke.

We don't have to choose between Nativism and Alienism. A healthy native is not an all-out Nativist, but rather has a code of hospitality and gallantry that takes into account the position of the alien; and the reasonable marginal member of society is not bound to be a fanatical Alienist, even though there are those who would like to inflame his resentments. Both perspectives have their stories to tell. Both can be accommodated by civility and the rule of law, without privileges for either, although it is a mark of the surprising power of Alienism that its favored minorities do, in spite of majority sentiment, enjoy privileges based on race.

All of us have had our consciousness raised, willy-nilly. Serious moral criticism of ethnic and sexual subcultures is pretty much taboo, despite unpleasant facts that stare us in the face.

Ronald Reagan himself committed what was in Alienist terms the ultimate solecism by describing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and "the focus of evil in the modern world." He had, in a word, affronted the great embodiment of Alienism on this earth.

It can be illuminating to compare them, but they are not exactly parallel: Alienism is more subtle. It can use more discretion in deciding where to strike.

In good Gnostic fashion, liberalism damns the entire material world; but it redeems selected parts through piecemeal collectivization.

The gnosis comprehensively denies that anyone in a free economic system can ever "earn" or "deserve" his income; to legitimate success in the free market would be to accept the normal, in violation of every Alienist principle--not to mention interest. Liberalism prefers to establish a tacit standard that no capitalist could possibly reach.

One of liberalism's most successful strategies has been to establish a standing presumption of guilt against the native: his motives are always in question, his racism and bigotry "just beneath the surface." But the native is forbidden to play this game: if he suggests that certain Alienist forces aren't on the up-and-up, he "thinks there's a Communist under every bed." His bad faith can be inferred from "patterns of discrimination"; he has to make a "good-faith effort" to cleanse himself before Alienist arbiters of good faith.

One of the best studies of Alienist ideology and techniques is Kenneth Minogue's book Alien Powers. It is typical of ideology, according to Minogue, to interpret the whole world under the aspect of power, and every concrete situation in terms of oppressors and victims. A key strategy is to assume a monopoly of both insight and honesty; by this means the ideologue puts him in the position of privileged accuser, always judging, never judged. The structure of ideological thought is heads, I win; tails, you lose.
The motives of the Alienist are never called in question; the native lets the Alienist take his wallet, and doesn't even count the change

SOCIALISM is the pure expression of Alienism.

For all its rhetoric of resistance to state encroachment, the ACLU hasn't opposed collectivization in the slightest.

These are restless people, people not always aware of their own motives, not explicitly aiming at a socialist outcome, but deeply alienated from the normal social affections of Americans and feeling that a compulsion to change old arrangements is in itself a moral virtue.

Such people find it hard to enjoy or appreciate normal social life; they see it all as a perpetual and spreading emergency, in which, if an apocalypse is not immediately looming, we are at least faced with crucial test-cases of our devotion to freedom. If some misfit or malcontent--Communist, homosexual, radical feminist--is not accommodated by law, all our freedoms are endangered. They day-to-day freedoms everyone (including misfits) exercises constantly count for next to nothing. These people take no satisfaction in an overall prosperity: the existence of pockets of poverty, though the poverty is only relative, makes the general wealth a "scandal."

The liberal may not wish for death, but it is hard for the conservative to understand why he is so anxious for the preservation of a life that liberal rhetoric suggests is always precarious and never fulfilled.

Is there ever to be a moment for harvest and thanksgiving, for idleness or celebration? Apparently not. Although liberals are intelligent people, by and large, even what we call "intellectuals," they have a remarkable penchant for causes and slogans in which their individuality is submerged,
In fact one important and malign development in American culture is that the scholar (who lives the life of the mind in relative seclusion from events) has been displaced by the intellectual (who tries to conscript scholarship for mass movements).

The intellectual is wrongly seen as living in an "ivory tower"; he is in the streets, an "activist." The problem is not that the liberal intellectual is critical of America--self-criticism is necessary even to conservation--but that he criticizes by the wrong criteria.

The liberal American, on the other hand, demands of his country not an intensification of loyalty but an attenuation of it. He sneers at the motion of patriotism, demands tolerance for subversives, and wants local attachments to be dissolved in the waters of a generalized concern for "humanity." American history for him is largely a record of his country's sins--against blacks, Indians, dissenters. At times it seems that his only identity is a negative one of shame. He is, as I say, alienated --a sort of native alien.

Liberalism as Retail Socialism

Is usually discussed in terms of its alleged ideals--"social justice" and the like Nothing is more obviously characteristic of the socialist impulse than the desire to redistribute wealth. "The poor" are to liberalism roughly what "the proletariat" is to Communism--a formalistic device for legitimating the assumption of power. What matters, for practical liberals, is not that (for example) the black illegitimacy rate has nearly tripled since the dawn of the Great Society; it is that a huge new class of beneficiaries has been engendered--beneficiaries who vote, and who feel entitled to money that must be taken from others.

As a form of Alienism, it keeps finding or inventing new exceptions to undermine rules: and it has kept a rich and overfed nation (whose supermarket checkout counters have racks of tabloids full of Miracle Diets) gearing its politics to poverty and hunger.

Since the Sixties America has learned in the dear school of experience what it would not submit to learn from tradition: that the breakdown of the family means social disorder.

Socialist utopianism has gone hand in hand with sexual utopianism. Many people who would never buy into the socialist delusion have fallen hard for the sexual one. But the price--in disease, abortion, guilt, frustration, hostility, suspicion, and coarseness--has yet to be acknowledged.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at


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