Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What's Wrong with the World

I probably shouldn't read these things over breakfast. It's too early in the morning, everything's still fresh and new and I get overly enthusiastic. I may gush. I do gush. Probably shouldn't.

But this is brilliant
. It's the lead article in the latest number of The American Conservative. The author writes from a British context but he describes our disintegrated society to a T.

This is a concise and neatly described analysis of the destruction wrought by the two principal ideological tendencies in the English-speaking west. That is, two ideological tendencies which feed off each other and both exacerbate the problems they claim to remedy.

A taste:

The 1960s New Left, to counter the authoritarian state it created, built a personal zone free of control in which to repudiate all standards and sell the poisonous idea of liberation through chemical and sexual experimentation. But when these New Left individualists preached personal pleasure as a means of public salvation, they were not resisting state control. They were, through their demands for freedom without limit and life without responsibility, undermining all autonomous self-governing structures, leaving a dreadful legacy of anarchic individualism that required state authoritarianism as the only way to re-impose order and society. Contemporary libertarian individualism and statist collectivism created each other and are locked in a fatal embrace that destroys the civic middle and the life and economy of the associative citizen.

This whole scenario dawned on me when I realized that my left-wing friends didn’t really believe in community. They only believed in choice. They supported abortion because they found it validating, a demonstration of real personal autonomy. But they think that fox hunting is terribly cruel and so should be ardently opposed. No doubt the same dispensation finds similar expression in the United States.

The Left harbors a deep and abiding hatred of fixity and tradition, a loathing of anything settled. In Anthony Giddens’s Third Way—the book that was behind the Blair revolution in Britain—he talks about how a new cosmopolitanism will free people from nature, and one gets the sense that Cool Britannia so envisaged is the permanent destruction of taboo and tie. According to the Blairite radicals we have to constantly rewrite ourselves by a willful assertion that wipes the slate clean and lets us begin again through the permanent act of choice—as long as such volition shows no teleology or direction. Nobody is told what to choose because the moral act in our contemporary paradigm isn’t what is chosen, it’s the act of choosing itself. Indeed, to choose is to repristinate and repeat the idea of oneself as an isolated, atomistic agent.

I do have doubts about some of his solutions. Perhaps it's merely the way they're phrased. Groups of local people "taking control of their lives" is wonderful in the contextless abstract. But in the context of American experience, one has visions of community organizers. If that doesn't send shivers up your 21st century American spine nothing will. (Is this sufficient to de-gush the post?)

Phillip Blond's book is going on the want-list immediately.