In his weekly column, nicely gauged to support his latest book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (or, Why Everyone Should Be Just Like Me), Ross Douthat tells us that the problem with society today is that everyone is too individualistic. Oh sure, you may think authoritarianism is bad, Douthat says, but that's just because you haven't met the right sort of authoritarianism. Being controlled by the state is bad but being controlled by the Church--the One True Church, of course--is the way to cure all the ills of the world.
The question hanging over the future of American social life, then, is whether all the possibilities of virtual community — the connections forged by Facebook and Twitter; the back alleys of the Internet where fans of “A Dance to the Music of Time” or “Ren & Stimpy” can find one another; the hum of virtual conversation that’s available any hour of the day — can make up for the weakening of flesh-and-blood ties and the decline of traditional communal institutions.
In his classic 1953 work, “The Quest for Community,” the sociologist Robert Nisbet argued that in eras of intense individualism and weak communal ties, the human need for belonging tends to empower central governments as never before. An atomized, rootless population is more likely to embrace authoritarian ideologies, and more likely to seek the protection of an omnicompetent state.
The kind of totalitarianism, fascist and Marxist, that shadowed Nisbet’s writing isn’t likely to come back. But a kinder, gentler kind of authoritarianism — what the blogger James Poulos has dubbed “the pink police state,” which is officially tolerant while scrutinizing your every move — remains a live possibility.
So the best way to keep our nation out of the hands of authoritarians who seek to control our every move is to become religious authoritarians. As Douthat previously explained:
Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum all identify as Christians, but their theological traditions and personal experiences of faith diverge more starkly than any group of presidential contenders in recent memory. These divergences reflect America as it actually is: We’re neither traditionally Christian nor straightforwardly secular. Instead, we’re a nation of heretics in which most people still associate themselves with Christianity but revise its doctrines as they see fit, and nobody can agree on even the most basic definitions of what Christian faith should mean.
This diversity is not necessarily a strength. The old Christian establishment — which by the 1950s encompassed Kennedy’s Roman Catholic Church as well as the major Protestant denominations — could be exclusivist, snobbish and intolerant. But the existence of a Christian center also helped bind a vast and teeming nation together. It was the hierarchy, discipline and institutional continuity of mainline Protestantism and later Catholicism that built hospitals and schools, orphanages and universities, and assimilated generations of immigrants. At the same time, the kind of “mere Christianity” (in C. S. Lewis’s phrase) that the major denominations shared frequently provided a kind of invisible mortar for our culture and a framework for our great debates.
Today, that religious common ground has all but disappeared.
Hierarchies look a lot better when you are at the top. When discipline and social order are being maintained at your own expense, they do not look quite as wonderful.
Conservatism's other boy genius, Jonah Goldberg, has also written a book, The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, lamenting the lack of rigid ideology in society. It seems that the problem with people today is that they don't agree with conservatives, who are always right. Take Jonah Goldberg, for example. People disagree with him, even reject him, and that, my friends, is just wrong.
We’ll, I got the word that “The Daily Show” has taken a pass on having me on to talk Tyranny of Cliches. The explanation that was passed on to me was that the book is too “one-sided” and that they don’t do books like that. As far as I can tell, that’s nonsense.
Of course, the show is free to have on whoever they want. I was just a little surprised. My last outing on the Daily Show was rather famous. Stewart went after me hammer and tongs for nearly 20 minutes and then they cut it down to five or six minutes, in ways — I’ve been told (I’ve never watched it) — that were quite friendly to Stewart (Here’s Mark Hemingway’s response at the time). I was hardly great, and I certainly should have prepared myself for such a hostile interview so early in the book tour.
Yes,, John Stewart is so notoriously hard-hitting and in-your-face, as the kids say.
But Stewart was a mess. He seemed to think that spending an afternoon reading up on fascism made him an expert.
Says the man who used to ask his readers to read and summerize his research material for him.
I have never watched the final clip that aired, but in the interview he seemed obsessed — as many critics of LF have been — with some quotes from Mussolini denouncing “liberalism.” The argument goes something like this: See! Liberal Fascism makes no sense since Mussolini hated liberalism.
The problem is that the liberalism Mussolini was denouncing was the “Manchester liberalism” of free markets and free trade, which pretty much bolstered my point. For the record, while I have huge problems with many of Stewart’s views and arguments, and have written as much many times, I still think he’s very talented and a charming guy.
Do you know the saying, "if he had a brain he'd be dangerous"? Goldberg disproves that cliche. From The Doctrine Of Fascism by Benito Mussolini:
Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity (11). It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts.
The rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual (12). And if liberty is to he the attribute of living men and not of abstract dummies invented by individualistic liberalism, then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State (13). The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State - a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values - interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people (14).
No individuals or groups (political parties, cultural associations, economic unions, social classes) outside the State (15). Fascism is therefore opposed to Socialism to which unity within the State (which amalgamates classes into a single economic and ethical reality) is unknown, and which sees in history nothing but the class struggle. Fascism is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon. But when brought within the orbit of the State, Fascism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State (16).
The stubborn stupidity so evident during Goldberg's interview with Stewart is fully in evidence in his new book as well. From the book's introduction:
There’s a kind of argument-that-isn’t-an-argument that vexes me. I first started to notice it on university campuses. I’ve spoken to a lot of college audiences. Often, I will encounter an
earnest student, much more serious looking than the typical hippie with
open-toed shoes and a closed mind. During the Q&A session after my speech he will say something like “Mr. Goldberg, I may disagree with
what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Then he will sit down, and the audience will applaud. Faculty will
nod proudly at this wiser-than-his-years hatchling under their wings.
What a glorious moment for everybody. Blessed are the bridge builders.
My response? Who gives a rat’s ass?
First of all, my right to speak never was in doubt. Indeed, I’m usually
paid to speak. Besides, I’ve given my speech already and we’re in Q&A
time: Shouldn’t you have told me this beforehand? Second, the kid is almost
surely lying. He’ll take a bullet for me? Really?
Clichés like these are a way to earn bravery on the cheap, defending
principles you haven’t thought through or perhaps only vaguely support.
Or, heck, maybe he really would leap on a grenade so I could finish talking
about how stupid high-speed rail is. But it still doesn’t matter, because
mouthing these sorts of clichés is a way to avoid arguments, not make them.
I started to notice that the same thing happens in writing, on TV, in books; people invoke these clichés as placeholders for arguments not won, ideas not fully understood. At the same time, the same sorts of people cavalierly denounce far more thought-out positions because they’re too “ideological.” Indeed, in America, we train people to be skeptical of ideology. College students in particular are quick to object with a certain gotcha tone: “That sounds like an ideological statement.”
Such skepticism doesn’t bother me. Indeed, I encourage it. The problem
is that while our radar is great at spotting in-bound ideological statements, clichés sail right through. People will say “It is better that ten men go free than one innocent man go to jail” and then stop talking, as if they’ve made an argument simply by saying that. They will take the slippery slope at face value. They’ll say “Diversity is strength,” as if it means something, and “Violence never solved anything,” as if that were not only plausible but so true that no further explication is required.
“We are only as free as the least free among us” they’ll proclaim,
misquoting Martin Luther King, Jr., or Elie Wiesel, or was it Captain
Jean-Luc Picard? But of course, this isn’t even remotely true. It is a very
nice thing to say. It’s a noble thing to try to live by. But it’s in no meaningful sense true. Rather, it is the sort of thing people assert in the hopes that it will win them uncontested ground in an argument.
Sometimes the problem is simply lazy thinking. But in other cases the
lazy thinking merely creates the vulnerability for radical thinking. Some
incredibly ideological ideas simply ride into your head like the dream
spelunkers in the movie Inception—setting up, working their way through
your programming—all because they’re wrapped in the protective coating
Stupid Jonah Goldberg says that everyone else thinks they are so smart when they really aren't, and from this arrogance and stupidity flow all the world's ills.
What offends [Jonathan] Cohn and his fellow progressives is the suggestion that any liberal victory once pocketed
can ever be reversed. Laws and words have no binding power on
future generations, but once Team Progressive puts points on the scoreboard,
they can never come off . That is what is sacred, because their conception
of history only goes in one direction.
This is the living, breathing heart of the progressive worldview. It is
as ideological as any conviction can be. And that is fi ne. There is nothing
wrong and a great deal that is right with having ideological convictions.
What is off ensive to logic, culturally pernicious, and, yes, infuriating
to me is the claim that it is not an ideological tenet. Progressives lie to
themselves and the world about this fact. They hide their ideological
agenda within Trojan Horse clichés and smug assertions that they are
simply pragmatists, fact fi nders, and empiricists who are clearheaded
slaves to “what works.”
Industrial planners like competitiveness because they like industrial planning. They like spending money on dams and roads and windmills because there’s a photo op at the ribbon cutting. They like to believe they are smarter and wiser than the free market economy, and if only we could put the
m in charge, they could impose a more rational, planned economic system.
Before then, in the 1960s it was the Whiz Kids who held
that modern economics was too complicated to leave to voters and consumers.
They inherited the argument from the New Dealers, who pushed
for an “economic dictatorship” in the words of Stuart Chase. They, in
turn, were standing on the shoulders of the progressive technocrats, who
took their cues from the Soviet Union (and Woodrow Wilson), who insisted,
in the words of Walter Lippmann, that we must abandon the “drift”
of nineteenth-century laissez capitalism and adopt the “mastery” of economic
planners. You can keep going, but the story is the same: arrogant
intellectuals trying to win czarlike power over the economy with fake
arguments that sound reasonable.
So that is what this book is about. It is about the clichés that have a tyrannical hold on our minds and the phrases that serve to advance ideological agendas that would expand and enhance the State’s mastery over
our lives. By no means are all expansions of the State tyrannical, but for
all intents and purposes, all advances of tyranny are statist. These are the
themes and convictions that inform the coming chapters. They informed
my decision to include some clichés while ignoring others. The first few
chapters are an attempt to flesh out this fundamental point, by coming to
the defense of ideology properly understood.
I do not claim that the conservative mind isn’t bound by clichés from
time to time, or that my collection exhausts the subjects covered, never
mind those not covered. But I would and do argue that conservatives are
more honest about their indebtedness to ideology. We declare our principles
and make our arguments more openly.
Naturally Goldberg has a cliched picture of a dirty hippy on the cover of his book, thereby proving that liberals rely on lazy cliches while conservatives are thoughtful and have well-developed arguments. Just as the smiley face with a Hitler moustaches on the cover of Liberal Fascism proved that liberals were the ones calling people fascist for no reason.
And so , dear readers, we discover that the problem with the world today is not blind obedience or bad arguments, it is rejection of Ross Douthat's blind obedience and Jonah Goldberg's bad arguments. If we would only do whatever they say, how happy and successful the world would be. For as we can plainly see, religious institutions do not exploit their followers for power and nothing could be more successful than conservative economic theory.