Frank Meyer’s fusionism

I guess I really need to read Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed. I know the general thesis from a recent article he wrote and from reviews and comments of others, but now I’m noticing that much of what I read could be viewed as haunted by the ghost of Deneen.

For instance, Michael Davis, The Fatally-Flawed Fusionism of Frank Meyer recounts how Meyer’s influential effort to end the cohabitation of libertarianism and traditionalism by marrying them led inadvertently to the ascent of toxic libertarianism. Davis never mentions Deneen, but his thesis is relevant to and inconsistent with Deneen’s.

Frank Meyer was a man looking desperately for faults in the philosophy to which he was most attracted: traditionalism. Finding none, he simply made up another philosophy: fusionism. But instead of coopting the energy and scientific rigor of libertarianism for the traditionalist cause, he simply empowered the former at the latter’s expense…

Why, you ask, did this come to pass? My best guess: libertarianism’s strict “government = bad, liberty = good” dichotomy was easier to market in magazine and stump speeches. And that’s understandable. Both libertarians and traditionalists were horrified by the sheer size and power of the Soviet state; libertarians simply don’t have to bother with “the simulacrum of virtuous acts” or “divine patterns of order.”

Davis also recaps as part of the story an early Meyer error and its correction:

In a 1962 column for National Review, he claimed that traditionalism’s cardinal sin—the fundamental error that necessitated its co-mingling with libertarianism—was that “the simulacrum of virtuous acts brought about by the coercion of superior power, is not virtue, the meaning of which resides in the free choice of good over evil.” In layman’s terms: virtuous acts must be those undertaken freely, not under state coercion.

L. Brent Bozell Jr., in his rejoinder, observed (correctly) that, because Meyer was making a theological claim—that is, about the relationship between free will and virtue—it has to be answered in theological terms. And every school of orthodox theology would accept that an act is virtuous regardless of whether it was made freely or not. “We can agree that the freer the choice—i.e., the more difficult it is—the greater the merit,” he writes; but, “by definition, the virtuous act is one that conforms with man’s nature, with the divine patterns of order.”

It certainly appears that Davis would contest Deneen’s premise that liberalism is fatally flawed, for he cites “an organic tradition of political liberty in the thought of Burke and Adams” (traditionalists) that did not require correction by injecting libertarianism.

He concludes with seven steps to “work backwards toward [the] restoration” of American conservatism which Meyer’s fusionism undermined.

Agree or disagree with him as you will. Davis’s piece strikes me as one of the best yet at The Imaginative Conservative, which is prolific but of spotty interest.

Again, if you’re wondering what this debate within conservatism is about, read A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching.

* * * * *

“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.” (John Dewey) Be a saint anyway. (Tipsy)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

One year

On the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Washington Post opinion page featured Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, half of a journalism power couple, announcing that, and why, she now supports him.

That was interesting enough in its own right, but at the bottom of the story, some further links appeared:

  1. The 10 best things Trump has done in his first year in office
  2. The 10 worst things Trump has done in his first year in office
  3. Erik Wemple: New York Times crowdsources the case for Trump, embarrasses pundit class

That last one links to here and makes a telling observation about why ordinary people and Never Trumpers can articulate what good Trump may have done more effectively than his closest confidants can:

Such individuals have an advantage over the professional class of Trump supporters, in that anyone in Trump’s orbit knows better than to cede any ground, to admit any fault, in defense of Trump. Should they do so, they’ll lose critical Trump-sycophancy points.

Then he gives an example of how the sycophants come off as dissembling geldings.

Yesterday, I called Trump a train wreck of a human being, and I stand by that. What profiteth it a man if he gain the world but lose his soul? I would not trade places with him. Not for $3 billion (if that’s a real assessment of his wealth); not for Melania, Stormy Daniels or all the other women; not for the Presidency of the United States.

(Yes, I know: “Judge not lest ye be judged.” But II Thessalonians 3:13-15 and Ezekiel 33:8 too.)

But his failure at the most important thing doesn’t mean he’s failed at everything. Read and judge for yourself.

UPDATES:

I wonder if Pastor Robert Jeffress, who described himself to The Atlantic on 10/28/17 as the president’s “most vocal and visible evangelical spokesman,” would still stand by this remark he made in that same interview:

“I do think President Trump is a positive role model for children.  Specifically, I would be happy for my children (and now, my coming grandchildren) to emulate his work ethic, leadership skills, and patriotism.”

(Rod Dreher) It is hard for me to imagine that the man who considered Trump a positive role model is practicing the same religion I try to practice.

Second change was adding the Ezekiel citation, above — which I wasn’t going to mention by itself.

* * * * *

“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.” (John Dewey) Be a saint anyway.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

A day in the land of my sojourn

Again, I’ve lingered too long this morning over very good stuff found in my internet haunts. But I’ve withdrawn some things (see below) scheduled on Hootsuite for later release to Facebook and Twitter, because I’ve found something else that wraps up my feelings poetically.

Much as I’ve thought that every sentient Christian should be moved by Psalm 51 (50 in Orthodox Bibles), so I think they should be moved by Peggy Haslar’s late-Thursday Sparrowfare blog. She’s the poet (even if she borrows from late songster Rich Mullins). Savor it.

“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.”

(John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1920) p. 196. H/T Edwin Bensen) Be a saint anyway.

* * *

If you’re curious, here are three things I pulled from Hootsuite:

    1. Understanding Conservative Christian Silence on Donald Trump’s Porngate in three perceptive points.
    2. Purity and Prejudice is a weak title for “theme and variations on ‘cads and louts won the sexual revolution.'”
    3. President Trump is the Freest Man Alive, and you’re worse than an idiot if you want to be like him.

The second and third are particularly good, but Haslar’s Sparrowfare outshone them.

The third, it seems to me (from always-insightful Elizabeth Bruenig), vindicates Patrick Deneen’s premise that liberalism (in the broad sense in which even “conservatives” are liberal) has failed. The “burly sinner” in the White House epitomizes the individualism espoused by liberalism, and he is a train wreck of a human being precisely because of his superlative acquisition of all the liberal anti-virtues. Q.E.D.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

How we got President Trump

 

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

No ordinary matter

Springboarding off the story of “Grace” and Aziz Ansari (which has become stories about stories about a story):

[Caitlyn] Flanagan points out that, in her day, women were advised to slap men or jump out of cars or scream and shout in order to bring an encounter verging on nonconsent to an end: Sex wasn’t an ordinary matter and thus didn’t need to be treated with ordinary manners.

Yet, while becoming just another social interaction stripped sex of much taboo, it’s still subject to the everyday pressures of etiquette, which can be just as binding. If a guest were lingering too late after a party, or a lunch partner boring you, or an acquaintance pestering you to borrow your umbrella, you wouldn’t scream or shout or slap them, and you likely wouldn’t abruptly leave. You would likely try to be subtle and transmit certain signals without a confrontation. You would likely go along to get along. You would likely grin and bear it. You would likely do this because that’s what we do in workaday social interactions, and sex is one of those now.

The trouble is that sex is clearly different, as the lasting unhappiness of so many women attests. If acknowledging that endangers one of the achievements of the sexual revolution, then so be it ….

(Elizabeth Bruenig, another author of whom I’ve learned “If she wrote it, and I see it, I should try to stop and read it”)

I almost categorized this blog as “Rights Talk” along with the other categories, but then realized that freedom to hook up has become an axiom, not a rights claim that’s debatable.

But it’s worth asking “Are we having fun yet? Men? Women?”

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Signs of the times

James Howard Kunstler probably coined the term “techno-narcissism.” He definitely uses it more than anyone I know. A related term is “techno-triumphalism.” I believe he uses that, too. He definitely does not think that technology is immanentizing the eschaton.

He may be understating it:

The second, Bitcoin, combines mania with techno-triumphalism. Almost nobody understands Bitcoing or Blockchain, but people are speculating in Bitcoin. One wise wag said “I know exactly what a Bitcoin is worth: one tulip bulb.” My theory that gold has no intrinsic worth (you can’t eat it, live in it or burn it for heat) commensurate with its totemistic value is similar.

Another bad signs: Mermaid academies, Abduction-for-hire services, and Designer cookie dough.

But if people couldn’t see doom in Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton for President, they’re unlikely to see it in any of these.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Abuses of power

Rod Dreher revisits for the third time the Edgardo Montara case from the 19th-centry papal state that included Bologna, Italy. He quotes a Patheos column by Eve Tushnet, which quote includes this:

I am not sure I’ve seen any discussions of Catholic “postliberal” politics which acknowledge the need for any peaceful social order to accept and accommodate disharmony. If your temporal political goal is public harmony you can either a) make a lot of compromises with unbelief and sin for the sake of peace or b) impose order by force, thus creating a lot more chaos, cruelty, and sin … Any reasonably okay society will have a lot of uncriminalized sin and a lot of unpunished crime, because the things you need to do to root out and punish sin will themselves involve sinful abuses of power.

That’s a great summary of why, some 50 years ago, I supported decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults. But since I believe, now as then, that those acts are sinful, I’ve been unwilling to go further into things like protected class status.

I’m not alone in that. But the nation is moving toward suppressing as intolerable the disharmony folks like me create. Dreher:

Here’s the thing that is very hard to get progressives to understand: liberalism today is turning illiberal in a way that resembles the Papal States of Pio Nono. Many on the left don’t see it because they are caught up in the relentless logic of virtue. Let’s step away from the religion aspect for a second. Have you been watching the progressive mob savaging Margaret Atwood — Margaret Atwood! — as a traitor to feminism for having said publicly that a Canadian academic punished for sexual harassment was denied due process? The Handmaid’s Tale author was a hero to feminists yesterday, but today she’s a monster because she deviated ever so slightly from the Virtuous Position. Extremism in the pursuit of progressive virtue is no vice …

Progressive militants are thrilled to throw dissidents from their purity project on the metaphorical bonfire, torching careers and reputations for the sake of Justice. And if one protests that this or that person was treated unfairly, well, mistakes might be made, but maybe it’s time that the Enemy (males, whites, straights, religious believers, et al.) knows what it feels like to be oppressed. That’s the rationale.

I have no doubt that there are more than a few progressives who read the controversy over Edgardo Mortara’s case and are rightly appalled, but who would tomorrow cheer the State for removing a child deemed transgender by experts from the home of his Christian parents who disagree.

Well of course they would! Gender is indelible, like baptism used to be superstitiously described, and the state is obliged to raise a boy-girl as a girl, as the Papal states thought they must raise a baptized Christian as Christian. Isn’t that obvious!?

Contemporaneously, Dreher and two others forecast other suppressions that may be more imminent.

First, Alan Jacobs sees Christian colleges and universities being destroyed by loss of accreditation for resisting the Zeitgeist:

As I have noted in another venue, calls are already being made for Christian institutions to lose their accreditation also. Many Christian colleges will be unable to survive losing federal aid for their faculty and students alike; … a loss of accreditation is likely to be the death knell for all of them, because that will dramatically reduce the number of students who apply for admission. Students with degrees from unaccredited institutions are deemed ineligible for almost all graduate education, and for many jobs as well. How many parents, even devoutly Christian parents, even those few who can afford it (given the lack of federal student aid), will be willing to pay to send their children to institutions if that narrows their future horizons so dramatically? Almost none, I suspect.

The people who argue that Christian institutions should support the modern left’s model of sexual ethics or else suffer a comprehensive shunning do not think of themselves as opponents of religion. And they are not, given their definition of religion, which is “a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought”. But that is not what Christianity is. Christianity intrinsically, necessarily involves embodied action in the public world.

Carl Trueman foresees trouble from Title IX and pressure to revoke tax exemption:

The specific point of conflict is likely to be (once again) Title IX legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination at any institution of higher education receiving federal funding. The law does allow an exemption for religious organizations such as colleges and seminaries, an exemption to which I shall return. What is worrying is the increasing elasticity of the legislation, which was extended under President Obama to include transgenderism. That “Dear Colleague” letter has since been rescinded, but the underlying cultural commitments that made Title IX expansions plausible remain in place.

Some colleges—for instance, Hillsdale and Grove City—stand apart from federal funding. Such places thus seem relatively safe. But are they? There is another point of vulnerability: the 1983 Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones University v. United States. This ruling denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University because of policies regarding interracial dating that were judged contrary to a compelling government policy. The text of the decision can be found here, but the key passage reads as follows:

The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest.

However we may cheer the particular result of the Bob Jones case, the implications unfolding in today’s climate are concerning. Replace “racial” with “sexual” in the paragraph above, and the point is clear.

The usefulness of Title IX and Bob Jones for the sexual-identity revolution lies precisely in the fact that most Christians see them as sound in what they were originally meant to accomplish, even as some might cavil at their heavy-handed application in after years. In a world where the law increasingly seems to exist not to protect minority opinion but to impose the sexual or identitarian taste du jour, the uses of these laws are increasingly sinister. Yet their origins make them hard to oppose with any cultural plausibility. For this reason, the religious exemption in Title IX will, I suspect, either fall or become so attenuated as to be in practice meaningless.

Dreher in a separate blog elaborates Trueman’s point:

Trueman points out a truth that far, far too many Christians refuse to acknowledge: that the political assault on orthodox religious institutions is happening because American culture has radically changed. Fighting politically and legally are necessary, but ultimately not sufficient to save us, because we increasingly don’t have the people with us. Writes Trueman, “It is the heart that must change if arguments are to carry any weight. And only things that go that deep will avail us at this time.”

But Dreher is getting used to being ignored:

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend, and how unprepared American Christians are for it. We really do labor under the self-indulgent illusion that It Can’t Happen Here. Oh yes, it most certainly can — and it is.

(Emphasis added) How can people be so insensate? A commonly-identified culprit is secularism, but Dreher names two more:

The other day, I had an e-mail exchange with a prominent scholar who studies religion in America. It’s not part of his public profile, but he happens to be a believing Christian. He was extremely pessimistic about the situation here, given the long-term data he is seeing about how the advance of secularism, consumerism, and individualism is routing belief.

(Emphasis added)

But some of that routed belief thinks it’s still faithful. We have met the enemy and he is, if not us, at least among our ranks. We will, in due course, have those routed believers held up as the truly exemplary believers.

We need to tolerate disharmony, as I think was done with decriminalization of sodomy, but that’s not where we seem to be headed, and this time I and mine are going to be the stigmatized.

If you’re a faithful and orthodox Christian, you are, too.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Anodynes & Nostrums

I was talking a walk through my neighborhood.  Buttons are out among students, but yard signs are in among hipsters.  This one has been sprouting like mushrooms:

IN THIS HOUSE, WE BELIEVE:
BLACK LIVES MATTER
WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS
NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL
SCIENCE IS REAL
LOVE IS LOVE
KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING

Having matriculated, as I said, in the Newspeak world, I humbly attempt to translate these sentiments into English.

Black lives matter. What this doesn’t mean:  That black lives matter.  Of course they do.  What it does mean:  That if you don’t think rioting is a good way to protect black lives, you’re a racist who thinks they don’t matter.

Women’s rights are human rights. What this doesn’t mean:  That women are human.  Of course they are.  What it does mean:  That unborn children aren’t, and if you think these babies are, you’re against women.

No human is illegal. What this doesn’t mean:  That it should never be illegal to exist.  Of course it shouldn’t.  What it does mean:  That if you think any form of border control is allowable, your view is tantamount to genocide.

Science is real. What this doesn’t mean:  That well-conducted science can discover some things about the real world.  Of course it can.  What it does mean:  That ideologically influenced science should be accepted without question, so if you ask for better evidence, you’re opposing science itself.

Love is love. What this doesn’t mean:  That love should be respected.  Of course it should.  What it does mean:  Everything motivated by sex is good, and if you have any reservations about that, you’re against love.

Kindness is everything. What this doesn’t mean:  That we ought to practice the virtue of kindness.  What it does mean:  That if you don’t agree with all of the preceding slogans, you must be full of hate.

(J Budziszewski, Doubleplusgood Ducktalkers)

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Why I’m not a Libertarian

Reason is a libertarian monthly print magazine covering politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews.” Thus saith the sponsored link in my search results.

[I]t’s shortsighted when publications like Reason Magazine scoff at law enforcement’s attempts to curb child trafficking by implying that runaways are more safe with pimps than with child protective services, basing this conclusion on the fact that that’s what trafficked, manipulated sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds say when asked.

Yes, Reason. I can’t think of another serious publication that would report on the Weinstein trafficking allegation in this way: “In this case, Weinstein is accused of using a fraudulent employment opportunity to lure Noble to his hotel room for what he hoped would be quid-pro-quo sex and what turned into a sexual assault.” It appears we have a national problem these days with hoped-for quid-pro-quo sex turning into sexual assault. All those dashed hopes.

Reason has long defended prostitution and turned a blind eye to the trafficking in the sex industry, preferring to champion rights for “sex workers.” And again this past spring, the magazine’s associate editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown penned a cover story accusing the FBI of policing sex in their attempts to save trafficked victims. “Most of the minors found in these crackdowns are not selling sex because someone is forcing them into it,” Brown urges, “but because they have no other palatable options to get by. They need shelter, cash, better care, legit employment, and better prospects all around.” Seemingly blind to how having limited options is fertile ground for coercion and exploitation, Brown paints an empathetic picture of a man named Irick Oneal who was prosecuted for trafficking a fifteen-year-old runaway who says she didn’t want to go back to CPS. Elsewhere, she describes trafficking prosecutions like this: “U.S. prosecutors announced federal indictments against a Missouri man accused of driving an 18-year-old sex worker across state lines and a pair of cousins whose initially consensual pimping of three adult women (including one of the defendants’ girlfriends) had turned abusive.” I suppose the pimp’s hopes were dashed here too.

Such statements reveal an agenda to portray prostitution as based on consensual relations at all costs—even at the cost of overlooking children being sold into slavery. It’s hard to think of another explanation that would gloss over the value of removing a thirteen-year-old girl from traffickers and instead bemoan the arrest of numerous prostituting adults caught in the same sting. “Authorities are routinely taking money set aside to stop child sexual exploitation and using it to find and punish adults, many just a few years past childhood themselves, for private sexual activities,” Brown decries. Who exactly did she think was exploiting the children, if not adults? 

Somewhere along the way, Brown and Reason lose sight of the value of that thirteen-year-old girl. Somehow it’s more important to protect profits than to stop the rape of a girl. Somehow, that girl’s repeated sexual assault, stolen liberty, and damaged health became a cost of doing business, for which the surrounding adults are not accountable.

According to Reason Magazine, if more adults are arrested than minors rescued, it means the entire effort to stop child trafficking is a failure or a farce. It doesn’t strike them as curious that the so-called “sex workers” aren’t fazed by trafficked minors in their midst. Perhaps Reason doesn’t want to investigate that further, because then they’d see that most people working in the sex industry came from backgrounds of sex abuse under eighteen as well. They’d see that many of them also first stumbled into the industry at thirteen or fourteen too. Perhaps many in the sex industry aren’t appalled by child abuse, not because it’s only happening to a rare few of them, but because it’s what most have experienced themselves.

(Harvey Weinstein Isn’t Unusual: Sexual Abuse and Trafficking in the United States)

At my advanced age, I’ve had many reminders why I cannot resolve my political ennui by declaring myself Libertarian. Reptilian reductionism ranks high among those reminders, and I cannot bring myself to think that the evil of sex trafficking is less that the evils sometimes wrought in trying to stop sex trafficking.

And in case you’re wondering: Yes, I went to the source and didn’t just trust Witherspoon’s summary of how Reason was treating sex trafficking.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Shelby Steele on NFL & BLM

Stanford Historian and Hoover Institute Fellow Shelby Steele has a powerful essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, behind a pay wall, about the feckless NFL “take the knee” protests. He also touches on Black Lives Matter. You probably can get a copy of the Journal at Barnes & Noble or another news stand if you move quickly. Or there’s always your local library.

I’m going to quote his core claim and, what I find a most powerful illustration, and his reasoning on why protests continue:

The oppression of black people is over with. This is politically incorrect news, but it is true nonetheless. We blacks are, today, a free people. It is as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise.

Of course this does not mean there is no racism left in American life. Racism is endemic to the human condition, just as stupidity is. We will always have to be on guard against it. But now it is recognized as a scourge, as the crowning immorality of our age and our history.

Protest always tries to make a point. But what happens when that point already has been made—when, in this case, racism has become anathema and freedom has expanded?

To hear … that more than 4,000 people were shot in Chicago in 2016 embarrasses us because this level of largely black-on-black crime cannot be blamed simply on white racism.

We can say that past oppression left us unprepared for freedom. This is certainly true. But it is no consolation. Freedom is just freedom. It is a condition, not an agent of change. It does not develop or uplift those who win it. Freedom holds us accountable no matter the disadvantages we inherit from the past. The tragedy in Chicago—rightly or wrongly—reflects on black America.

That’s why, in the face of freedom’s unsparing judgmentalism, we reflexively claim that freedom is a lie. We conjure elaborate narratives that give white racism new life in the present ….

I tried to comment on this, but that only made it weaker.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.