How we got here, per David Carlin

I had to wait for an oil change this morning, so I got aways into David Carlin’s Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.  Of what I read, the most striking chapters were 5-7, which don’t deal with the Church at all, but were the most lucid explanation I have ever seen for how we got to the ’60s, and to our present received truths. Carlin takes sort of a Great Books approach to the debacle, books which held ideas which escaped from academia and entered society in a debased form. Those books and movements are:

1. Cultural relativism ( Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture ; Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa.)

2. Ethical emotivism (A. J. Ayers / Charles Stephenson); antinomianism

3. Suspicion of authority (The Authoritarian Personality, via Erich Fromm, and the Milgram experiment)

I was shocked to realize that most of the intellectual baggage that I’d carried for most of my life, and which many whom I know still carry, had an identifiable pedigree. I might have cracked Mead once. I know that Ayers was discussed in my Intro to Philosophy class in 1977 or 78, but between senioritis and the silliness of Ayers’ proposition, it really hadn’t stuck with me.  Of course I knew of the Milgram experiment, but had never realized the fallacy of equivocation at the heart of it.  Yet the grandchildren of all these works had a profound influence on me (and even the children; Wilhelm Reich’s work can be seen as #3 seasoned with #1).

The point of cultural relativism was that if a moral code worked for a given society, it was just as successful as any other moral code, and that there was no universal set of morals. Indeed, as a young neo-pagan, I believed that other societies’ moral codes might be superior, if they allowed for sufficient amounts of free sex.  And cultural relativism plays into the odd notion that refusing to pay for a strange  American woman’s birth control is a War on Women, but the fate of women in Islamic states is not really a moral issue, because it works for them (at least, if they aren’t women).

In the Ayers/Stephenson formulation, all moral statements are merely statements of feelings, with a persuasive element thrown in. Ultimately, this means “x is right because I want it to be.” Kant said that autonomous morality must be guided/generated by reason, but that implies a reasoning populace, which is not the populace we have.  I was a thoroughgoing Kantian, both as a Wiccan and (insofar as I was one) an Objectivist, but came to the realization that autonomous morality through reason would always be subverted and betrayed by autonomous morality through emotion.  One major problem with this movement is that it makes all discussion of “rights” fundamentally useless. “Rights” are a moral formulation; if one’s rights are determined by one’s morality, and one’s morality by one’s desires, then “I have a right to this” is indistinguishable from “I want this.”, which means that anyone can pull any ‘right” out of their ass  and think it carries as much weight as any other right.

In the theory of the authoritarian personality, there is no model of proper authority. Thus, good is seen as being as far away from the authoritarian mindset as possible: instead of ethnocentrism, forced multiculturalism; for sexual repression, loss of sexual control; for religious dogma, irreligion. Anti-Semitism is also an aspect of the authoritarian personality; ironic, since it is currently most virulent in the Left, which must then be authoritarian.  This was the element that struck me most forcefully. I had never understood the virulent hatred of the Right by the Left, and the portrayal of all non-Leftists as fascists. Under this paradigm, it became quite logical: they literally think we are crazy, mentally disturbed.

There is in Carlin an assumption that it takes 25-30 years for an idea to percolate into common acceptance.  These works all came out in the 30s and 40s.  He mentions Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953) and the founding of National Review (1955) which (though he doesn’t mention this)  flowered into the election of Ronald Reagan by 1980.  Following the pattern, Atlas Shrugged would have set up the establishment of the Libertarian Party in the early 70s. The big LP “coming out” and distribution of the ideas of Rothbard can be defined as the Ed Clark campaign of 1980… which means we would see a popular acceptance of a gutter libertarianism ca. 2005-10, And so it seems to be happening. Now, what is the Big Idea of 1990 which is ready to bite us in the behind or to save us? And how can we, who seek to preserve Western Civilization, unteach the lessons of the last 50 years?


7 Responses to How we got here, per David Carlin

  1. Michael Grosh says:

    When I think of Mead I also think of the documentary “Nanook Of The North” probably because my exposure to both were in a Social Anthopology class. But aren’t they both a continuation of age of reason French philosophers admiring “the noble savage”? That, I was taught, was the underlying premise of “the American experiment”. The need for authoritarian government is minimal if individuals are left to follow their own moral compasses. Maybe the whole argument got hijacked by Rousseau.

  2. jeffreyquick says:

    Lots of fraudulent elements in both Mead and Nanook…AND in the “noble savage” idea. It’s been claimed that the French got on better with the Indians because they weren’t tainted as the English were by their experience with the Irish and were thus more prepared to see Native Americans as “noble.” But a century before Rousseau, the North American Martyrs were being tortured and killed by those same “noble savages.” Maybe the French were more noble than the English; I don’t recall any particular concern for Indian souls from the Pilgrims. After all, had they been members of the Elect, they would have been born in Europe.

    • Michael Grosh says:

      That the noble savage theory is bogus seems well documented. It seems the government based on it seems bogus too, judging by recent, and some not so recent, events. Enlightened despotism, anyone?
      So, sort of related, Jeffrey, and if this is too personal I apologize and withdraw the quesfion, but you seem pretty upfront in your theological views; what attracted you to the Catholic brand of Christianity? It seems like a very hierarchical command structure for someone I have been following as having at least strong libertarian leanings.

  3. jeffreyquick says:

    Happy to answer that, Michael.
    I actually had a “conversion experience” at a specific place and date (though I forget the date). Between Wicca and Objectivism, I’d had quite a bit of experience with roll-your-own, logic-derived morality. And in looking at what I’ve seen over the past 50 years, and the lives of those who were implementing those systems, I decided that they didn’t lead to personal happiness or societal success. There was something in every logically-derived morality that led to computational fail: subjective self-interest. I realized that this fit the definition of “original sin” well enough, and that Christianity, alone of all the religions I had studied, had pinpointed the problem and thus was most likely to have an effective solution. The Catholicism part of that was a corollary: if morality was tainted by self-interest, any attempt to revise the teachings of the original church would also be so tainted. And contrary to the claims of Protestants, there is evidence beyond historical continuity to suggest that Catholicism is the original church.

    As for hierarchy, it doesn’t descend to the people in pews. Nobody tells me what to do. The map of reality which is the faith has certain things that one must or must not do. So does reality in the blunt physical sense. If I jump off a building, I will kill the life of the body; if I blow off Mass on Sunday, I will kill the life of the soul. I’ve had adequate experience of the ways I have damaged myself spiritually and temporally that I choose to believe this. But if those beliefs are “oppressive” somehow; then so is physics.

    Politically, I define myself these days as a “radical subsidiarist”. I’ve had to take a hard look at the ways that social institutions (including, ugh, the state) are hard-wired/”ordained of God” in the human psyche, as well as the problems involved in centralizing power in the hands of sinners (i.e., anyone) This is an ongoing process, and I’m not finding it comfortable at all. But I think you know that my highest value is Truth.

    • Michael Grosh says:

      As always, you provide much food for thought, Jeffrey. I assumed you were attracted to the Church through it’s music canon. I should have known it went deeper than that. It was once pointed out to me Christians can see the Christianity in other Christians, no matter what their denomination; I attributed that to the Holy Spirit resident in us all. My exposure to Jehovahs’ Witnesses (I enjoy their visits), they not recognizing the Trinity, encouraged reevaluation. Put me down as currently adrift, spiritually.
      The fact that all the religions believe theirs is the one true faith doesn’t help. Some bodies got to be wrong.
      Your point about roll your own is especially good.

  4. Marie says:

    Michael Grosh.. you may want to reevaluate your disaffection towards the idea that Christians can see the Christianity in other Christians, based on Jehovahs witnesses disavowal of the Trinity.. enjoying them or not, unfortunately JW’s are not Christians, They do not worship the true God in that they see Him totally differently than we do, and more like muslims or Jews they do not recognize Jesus as God, or as the Only Begotten Son of God, but as a created being, sometimes compared to or mistaken for St. Michael the Archangel. Dont get me wrong, i enjoy the visits of Jehovahs witnesses as well, in fact, i had a bible study going with one of them for the better part of a year, and i thank her for the fact that she proved to me that the Catholic Church was the One True Church, by the questions she could not answer or whos answers were not ringing true for me… this has been reaffirmed countless times, with my last JW encounter (i will no longer converse with them) ending when they told me that my daughter should have been left to die because it was “God’s will” when she needed an 80 percent double exchange blood transfusion. A fairly simple procedure in todays medical climate saved her life, and these people, having MET my beautiful, talented, intelligent, vivacious, God loving little girl, tell me i should have let her die. No thank you, i already went through a TRULY ordained loss.. no saving my first daughter, but THIS ONE? Would they have me shoot her to obey “God’s will”??? sorry i got a little heated on that one. My point is, i DO believe we can see Christianity in other Christians, and we can see Christ in anyone, perhaps that is what you really saw in your JW friends, that bit of Christ that is waiting to be invited in.. maybe your visits will bring tHEM to the truth, instead of allowing them to bring you to the lie.

    • Michael Grosh says:

      My view that Christians can see in others Christians (the Holy Spirit, actually) originated from an Episcopal Bible study group. I am content interpreting “within my father’s house are many mansions”-Jesus as meaning follow a few simple rules and it’s a big tent we all live under. I continue to be amazed how the faithful always believe theirs is the one true faith. As Jeffrey once pointed out, somebodies’ got to be wrong.

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