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?