- Bending every custom and ordinance
- The Good Life
- A Primer on Russia
- The Sunday Morning Show
- Walking the Talk
Earlier this year, in a provocative article entitled “Social Liberalism as Class Warfare,” Ross Douthat asked:
Is it just random that the one idea binding the post-1970s upper class together – uniting Wall Street’s Randians and Harvard’s academic socialists, a left-leaning media and a right-leaning corporate sector, the libertarians of Silicon Valley and the liberal rich of the Upper West Side – is a hostility to any kind of social conservatism, any kind of morals legislation, any kind of paternalism on issues of sex and marriage and family? Is the upper class’s social liberalism the lone, the rare exception, where our self-segregated, self-interested elites really do have the greater good at heart?
“Maybe so,” he continues, “but for the sake of argument, let’s consider the possibility that they don’t.”
“If we‘re inclined … to see our elite as fundamentally self-interested,” he comments, “then we should ask ourselves whether the combination of personal restraint and cultural-political permissiveness might not itself be part of how this elite maintains its privileges.“
What if we do ask ourselves that question?
… Studies in both Canada and the United States have shown that the poor who practice the sexual mores preached by the upper classes actually lose the security – financial security included – of traditional structures related to sexuality, especially marriage. Only 12 percent of the least wealthy quartile of Canada’s population are in married relationships, and in the US, as a recent Atlantic article notes, “Matrimony is flourishing among the rich but floundering among the poor.“
As one sifts through the wide range of data on who’s practicing what in North America, and the relationship of these practices to financial security, [Abraham] Kuyper‘s words about the tendencies of the elite in the late nineteenth century suddenly look like a plausible explanation of today‘s elite: “the stronger have always known how to bend every custom and magisterial ordinance so that the profit is theirs and loss belongs to the weak.“
(From the Winter 2014 Comment magazine, theme “Redeeming Conservatism”)
What’s ironic is that hypocrisy usually involves professing allegiance to a higher standard than lived, while excepting oneself from the standard through a loophole (e.g., “Well, my situation is different; my wife doesn’t understand me”). Our elites generally profess a libertine non-standard, but live a Puritanical high one, leaving others to live (and suffer the consequences of) what they profess.
Perhaps this is what C.S. Lewis called “the whiff of an empty bottle,” the phenomenon of some briefly living the values of Christendom after abandoning Christianity. But I’m afraid it’s more like subconscious bigotry: we can’t expect “those people” to be monogamous, etc., and they might feel bad if they tried and failed, so we’ll tell them they needn’t try.
The discussions like this on this website (and in life) go around and around and around because the two sides have very different views of the Good Life–some judge the good life on how likely it is that one will be able to pass on a certain way of life to one’s children, one that usually involves a close knit family and traditional religion, manners, and mores. And others judge it based on autonomy–to what degree can I experience the world on my own terms without any received values or outside obligations. Both sides need the cooperation of society to achieve their goals, but since the horrors of 20th century totalitarianism, people on the Right (in the West at least) are reluctant to press their claims on those who disagree with them, which is a de facto victory for liberalism. I know because I am a milquetoast trad. For example without pressure to stay married people don’t stay married, even if for the vast majority of people divorce is a disaster. But who wants to snub divorced friends or correct a divorced (and non-celibate) uncle that he can’t receive Communion? That is how it used to be.
Dmitry Orlov says many provocative things, but Peculiarities of Russian National Character strikes me as stone-cold sober, starting with this:
Whereas prior to these events the Russians were rather content to consider themselves “just another European country,” they have now remembered that they are a distinct civilization, with different civilizational roots (Byzantium rather than Rome)—one that has been subject to concerted western efforts to destroy it once or twice a century, be it by Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, or some combination of the above. This has conditioned the Russian character in a specific set of ways which, if not adequately understood, is likely to lead to disaster for Europe and the world.
Lest you think that Byzantium is some minor cultural influence on Russia, it is, in fact, rather key. Byzantine cultural influences, which came along with Orthodox Christianity, first through Crimea (the birthplace of Christianity in Russia), then through the Russian capital Kiev (the same Kiev that is now the capital of Ukraine), allowed Russia to leapfrog across a millennium or so of cultural development. Such influences include the opaque and ponderously bureaucratic nature of Russian governance, which the westerners, who love transparency (if only in others) find so unnerving, along with many other things. Russians sometimes like to call Moscow the Third Rome—third after Rome itself and Constantinople—and this is not an entirely empty claim. But this is not to say that Russian civilization is derivative; yes, it has managed to absorb the entire classical heritage, viewed through a distinctly eastern lens, but its vast northern environment has transformed that heritage into something radically different.
A spiritual mentor of mine suggested I look into Eastern Orthodoxy (he himself was not Orthodox but had friends who were). I gave him a dismissing waive, telling him I had read about them in my history books,
“They’re nothing more than the Roman Catholic Church of the East.”
He told me there was much more to it than that; there was a hidden depth and treasure of spiritual knowledge within Orthodoxy. I highly respected his opinion and tucked that conversation away to chew on later.
Growing up in charismatic circles, I had grown used to live bands, words on large projector screens, kickin’ music, and an entertaining and sometimes emotional sermon that took up most of the service time. It was The Sunday Morning Show.
To me church was supposed to loosely follow this format:
- Opening song
- Three or four more songs
- Sermon (which took up a majority of the service time)
- Altar call
- Closing song
Every time I visited the Orthodox Church, I found that I was waiting for the service to actually begin. It was then that I realized that my subconscious impression was that Sunday morning services are a sermon with an opening act.
(Jeremiah, an Orthodox convert, whose experience was not much like mine but strikes me as likely to resonate with some.)
Not everyone is a hypocrite (or at least not all the time):
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. suspended sales of pork at about a third of its more than 1,700 restaurants after finding an important supplier didn’t comply with its animal-welfare standards, a spokesman said Tuesday.
The fast-casual chain said it suspended one of its pork suppliers after a recent, routine audit found that the supplier, whose name the company didn’t disclose, was raising pigs without access to the outdoors or to deeply bedded barns that are more comfortable for the animals—conditions that Chipotle requires. The supplier hadn’t failed previous audits, the spokesman said.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)