You Say Liturgy, I Say Lechery

by Caleb Stegall on March 25, 2009 · 25 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Economics & Empire

I hurried up to Columbia University to inform my friends on the campus that I had located the Communist Party, had made contact with it, and was, in fact, a registered member. By chance, the first man I met as I crossed the campus was one of my literary friends. I told him the news. As usual, he squinted one eye and lifted the eyebrow of the other, so that he looked as if he were peering through a monocle. “Do you drill in a cellar with machine guns?” he asked airily. It was he who, when I was first seeking enlightenment about Communism, had given me The Communist Manifesto to read. Now I saw that Communism as an idea was disverting. Communism as an idea to do something about was amusing. I turned away. I looked up another friend who was later with the Theatre Guild. More than any other individual, he had been directly responsible for swinging me toward Marxism. Now that I was a Communist, I explained, I would be able to bring him into the party at once. There were some moments of painful embarrassment. He was delighted at my political enterprise, but he had no intention of joining the Communist Party. Nevertheless, his position was awkward and he felt obliged to put me off without actually saying no. The same pattern was repeated with others. For the first time, I understood the contempt with which Communists pronounced the word ‘Intellectuals.’ I thought: “That miscellaneaous mob in the English speaking branch may not know the English language, but they know a good deal about history. They are not as intelligent as my college friends, but they do not think that ideas are ping-pong balls. They believe that ideas are important as a guide to coherent action. They have purpose and they have courage. They are grown men and women, and these are children.” I felt a sudden warmth for my shabby, quarrelsome comrades and a readiness to overlook their failings in the name of their faith and purpose. I began to see less and less of my college friends. -from Witness, by Whittaker Chambers

Damon Linker thinks our front porch neighbor Rod Dreher has a gay fixation.  Andrew Sullivan cheers him on.  Linker is especially irked that Dreher would fall back on church teaching as support for his position vis-à-vis gay marriage.  Says Linker:

Rod has shown in his work as a journalist writing about the sex-abuse scandal in (and its cover-up by) the Catholic Church that he’s perfectly willing to aggressively challenge religious authorities when he believes them to be acting immorally. Good for him. It shows that he’s modern — that is, he chooses which authorities to obey based on his own subjective judgment. So when Rod obeys the authority of orthodox (in his case, Eastern Orthodox) Christian teaching on homosexuality, he does so because he chooses to obey — because he makes the subjective judgment that that teaching is true, is right, is worthy of being obeyed.

Linker is a one trick pony, and this trick hasn’t even changed much over the years.  Years ago Linker chastised Ross Douthat along similar lines:

Is my opposition to theoconservative ideology not better understood as opposition to orthodox Catholicism? Can you and Neuhaus, as Catholics, be good citizens of a liberal polity like the United States? My answer is simple: Of course you can-on one condition. Like every other citizen, you must be willing to accept what I call “the liberal bargain.” In my book [Theocon], I describe this bargain as the act of believers giving up their “ambition to political rule in the name of their faith” in exchange for the freedom to worship God however they wish, without state interference. What does this mean, in practical terms? It means that your belief in what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches is irrelevant, politically speaking. It simply shouldn’t matter whether or not you think that justice has a divine underpinning, anymore than it should matter whether you prefer Jane Austen to Dostoevsky. In a word, liberal politics presumes that it’s possible and desirable for political life to be decoupled from theological questions and disputes.

Curiously, most respected “conservative” defenders of heterosexual marriage tend to agree with Linker.  Maggie Gallagher leveled the same basic critique of Dreher’s neo-traditionalism several years back:

We have lots of choices in our society but we don’t have the choice to be genuinely traditional, as far as I can see, and nothing in your book suggests otherwise. Yes, the absence of traditional bases for identity creates a genuine hunger. If you want to try to satisfy that hunger by “attaching” to a tradition, I have no objections. I really don’t. I just can’t look at that process and see that its will achieve what you claim for it. Its not being traditional, its choosing tradition as the best of all available consumer goods. You make that choice, other people make other choices. God bless, I hope it works for you. … I personally think the benefits of the modern condition seriously outweigh its liabilities (and so there we may differ). But don’t imagine you are recreating a traditional world. It’s not true. You are creating a personal world.

Meanwhile, another erstwhile conservative intellectual, Gilbert Meilaender, bashed Dreher’s crunchy legions as stuck-up prigs for wanting to focus on anything more permanent that a YouTube clip. It’s a dry erase culture and you can rewrite your life three times a day if you want, said Meilaender, and never lose a convivial moment with the neighbors.  For Meilaender and Gallagher, it’s a Burger King World, baby, and you can’t leave, so best get comfortable.

In fact, the Whopper and ESPN are transcendent modern goods for which conservative theorists will man the ramparts against any rebellious backwards glances at apple pies and baseball.  Meilaender, Gallagher, Sullivan, and Linker are bonded by all being people who want to embrace the suburbourgeoisie so much they will attack anyone who wants to focus on children, tradition, and real membership that imposes anything above and beyond subjectively chosen “obedience” as dangerous.

This is the real reason Linker opposes traditional notions of marriage, and one can only wonder why Gallager and Meilaender can’t just get on board already.  Why so upset with gays for wanting to satiate their thirst for consumptive tradition by attaching themselves to bourgeoisie institutions?  This is likely how Sullivan and others like him see themselves and the issue along with their own desire to normalize.

What I find so fascinating is that both sides of the marriage debate tend to accept what Linker calls the “liberal bargain” which requires that we all forsake the notion of tradition as a living, authoritative matrix for life.  Good citizens of the consumptive state must accept a bastardized version of tradition as just one more product on the shelves chosen to therapuetically aleviate certain “itches” that are understood in an entirely materialistic and personalist way.  Liturgy for you, lechery for me, it makes no difference.

In this sense, Gallagher becomes the perfect pin-up girl for Linker’s vision of America, even though he would likely describe her as one of the theocon boogeymen. What a fraud this entire discussion is!

The bottom line is this: Linker, Gallagher, Sullivan, and Meilanender fail to see themselves as effective noisemakers who provide distracting cover for the real political actors and power plays. Which is to say that each, in their own way, are dupes and stooges for the prevailing political consensus of the middling, consumptive, servile state.

All four are essentially correct about what motivates most allegedly “neo-traditional” movements afoot today–which makes this discussion very relevant to the Front Porch.  This motive brings us the bizarre spectacle of both “gay marriage” and of people who plop their Burger King have-it-your-way Whopper drive-through on their “handcrafted Amish dinner-table” and then turn around and pop in the latest London Philharmonic CD into their made-in-China Wal-Mart standard-issue under-the-cupboard CD player.  Comodify your dissent!

After this kind of cultural diet, I doubt many have the wherewithal to recognize a genuine cultural artifact if it rose up and bit them in the collective ass.

Speaking of which, let me utter a word of praise for the genuine queer article.  Walker Percy noted that “Christians talk about the horror of sin, but they have overlooked something. They keep talking as if everyone were a great sinner, when the truth is that nowadays one is hardly up to it. There is very little sin in the depths of the malaise. The highest moment of a malaisian’s life can be the moment when he manages to sin like a proper human (Look at us, Binx-my vagabond friends as good as cried out to me-we’re sinning! We’re succeeding! We’re human after all!)”

Sin is a dead letter in our consumptive malaisian state.  I agree with the commies and the queers–if you wanted to be truly radical you would reject the notion of marriage altogether as a tool of partriachical, agrarian, household economies.  It’s a tragedy that Gallagher et al have saved them the trouble by doing it for them.  I say bring back the blue eye shade and “moral fugitives”–to borrow from Santayana–in lieu of this sanitized, sterile, infertile marital dead fish tool of the corporate state!

So, finally, if there is any valid critique of Dreher’s “crunchy cons” (or even of the Front Porch Party) it may be our predilection to similar distraction. We, by and large, still value and cultivate our citizenship in the consumptive state–we daily make the liberal bargain.  What else can we do?  But every so often it is worth asking, where are the crunchy bare knucklers, or better yet, brass knucklers? Where are the stem-winders and latter-day Elijahs set to call down fire upon the prophets of the malaisian condition? Where are the anarchists and wild-eyed populists infused with righteous rage who will say not just “no” but “Hell No!” to the consumptive, servile, sterile state?

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 25, 2009 at 11:38 am

But every so often it is worth asking, where are the crunchy bare knucklers, or better yet, brass knucklers? Where are the stem-winders and latter-day Elijahs set to call down fire upon the prophets of the malaisian condition? Where are the anarchists and wild-eyed populists infused with righteous rage who will say not just “no” but “Hell No!” to the consumptive, servile, sterile state?

Well, for one thing Caleb, if there are any out there which could respond to your words, they would have to own or work on a computer with an internet connection to have even read them, and that, to a great degree, likely undermines their ability to be such Elijahs, don’t you think?

Sorry for the snark; I couldn’t resist. Back to arguing ourselves out of existence we go…

avatar Caleb Stegall March 25, 2009 at 11:44 am

On the one hand, you’re right, and we should always remember the ways even blogging about our desired world serves as theraputic thumb-twiddling (see here). Because blogging kills.

On the other hand, your comment is just a way of avoiding the tougher questions–like I wrote, this is equivalent to saying that it’s a Burger King world and you can’t leave. I think Patrick already addressed this in his free riding post.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 25, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Blogging kills, yes! Maybe I’ll put that on my blog. Or maybe not; everyone would assume it was irony.

Actually, though I need to honestly thank you for the Whittaker Chambers quote. I was recently invited to participate in an organizing group here in Wichita, and though it’s a cause I talk about all the time, I wasn’t planning of responding to the invite. Now, I think I will. Time to shit or get off the pot, as they say, or used to.

As for the whole free riding question–well, that one haunts us all, as it should. I don’t yet have an answer as to how we should get from point A to point B, and probably none of us moderns truly do. Fortunately, I don’t have to have a final answer to that in order to weed my garden and get the strawberry plants moved.

avatar Dennis Larkin March 25, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Leon Bloy wrote that he wanted to ‘blow the dynamite of the Gospels.’ Now there’s a Catholic for you.

Forget answering to those who would marginalize us. Live by your own light, not theirs. Don’t ask their permission for anything. At all.

avatar Matt Stokes March 25, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Caleb’s point is well-taken, but I question his criticism of eating at the Amish-style table and listening to the London Philharmonic. I know he’s not saying those things are wrong (i.e. sinful) but he is nonetheless making a criticism. Yes, Pottery Barn is fake, but what are the options? Cheaper junk from Wal-Mart? And why mention the cd? What on earth is wrong with listening to that music? This sort of comment seems common enough, but I fail to see the problem with that sort of behavior.

avatar D.W. Sabin March 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Awright dammit…..I swear I’m gonna make some stink-bombs right after I check my credit score. Seems there have been a few sacrifices of point since I found this here bit of brightness in the electronic hive.

As the bumper sticker asserts: “Procrastinate Now”

Interesting commentary here Mr. Stegall…..It is a bit odd is it not that the purported transgressor would seek to take their Pirate Ship aside the giant State Barge and then ask permission to board and pay the required fees.

The human urge to shoulder laws would appear to be pansexual. total Freedom would seem to have a tetch of poverty about it. This, somehow…. cheers me with a bit of schadenfreude not unlike that heathenish Kinky Friedman who told a bear-baiting member of the Texas Governor’s Campaign Press Pool that he’s all for Gay marriage because “why should they be freed from the same pains the rest of us endure”.

avatar wilderness of meres March 25, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Good citizens of the consumptive state must accept a bastardized version of tradition as just one more product on the shelves….

They don’t have any other choice if Ernest Gellner is correct:

A real traditionalist does not know that he is one, his tradition simply is his life and his being: once he knows it as a tradition, one among others, or even as opposed to reason, he has been corrupted by his knowledge of something else. (Language and Solitude, p 7)

avatar gigg March 25, 2009 at 2:07 pm

It shows that he’s modern — that is, he chooses which authorities to obey based on his own subjective judgment.

Linker’s thoughts are strange to me. He seems to think that pre-moderns never made any choices to obey based on “subjective” judgment, for if they had done so they would necessarily be modern. This strange idea rests on Linker’s modern assumption that it’s possible for obedience to be purely objective, as if the human subject(ivity) can be abstracted out, leaving pure objective obedience.

Perhaps what he is referring to is a modern self-consciousness about the fact that one is making a choice, and that it is this self-consciousness that makes Dreher modern. I’m not sure, but this eminently more coherent idea is different from Linker’s understanding of “subjective.” As long as there is a subject acting, there will be necessarily be subjectivity. If Linker is referring to the quality of self-consciousness, he should say so.

I think the more important distinction between moderns and non-moderns is related to how truth is defined. For moderns, the buck stops with the human self. For non-moderns, the self can be wrong about truth, as can be human institutions and authorities.

Perhaps Linker believes non-moderns must believe in the infallibility of traditions such that Dreher is necessarily being modern when questioning a tradition or authoritative institution? This understanding of what it takes to be pre/non-modern seems quite a stretch to me, but perhaps Linker has spent so much time with Catholics that pre-modern == Catholic notions of magisterial infallibility writ large.

avatar ben March 25, 2009 at 8:43 pm

The first time I was surprised by Damon Linker was when I read his piece on Fatherhood in First Things in November of 2002. After this, nothing he has written or done has surprised me very much.

Fundamentally, I think that Linker has fallen in love with a feminist. And that explains everything.

In what is really a manly gesture, his recent career crusading against the Theocon boogeymen is really a defense of his wife against those whom she percieves as agressors. I think he is opposed to tradition, and its largest champion, the papacy, because it hurts the feelings of the one he loves. I can’t get too angry about that.

What he fails to fundamentally understand is what love, family, community and government are really all about, and as such he fails to love his wife as well as he could.

I am reminded of the following, from another great Kansan, Dr. John Senior:

“Christendom, what secularists cal Western Civilization, is the Mass and all the paraphernalia which protect and facilitate it. All architecture, art, political and social forms, economics, the way people live and feel and think, music, literature–all these things when they are right, are ways of fostering and protecting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

If this is the reality, if Christendom is the reality of our lives, then to speak in terms of a liberal bargain makes little sense. Liberalism as a political form partakes of existence only insofar as it serves to good. Insofar as it detracts from the good, by undermining the institution of marriage for example, liberalism is Dis.

Dis is the only real free rider. It is not an exercise in consumer choice to turn from Dis and embrace Christendom, even if it is liberalism that allows for the choice. Insofar as liberalism preserves the freedom to choose good and reject evil, it preserves civilization as a posibility. But to suppose, as Linker does, that liberalism moves beyond good and evil through some sort of bargain is to undermine the foundation of liberalism as a possibility. Liberalism must exist for the good, or it is reduced to the same Hell as every other tyranny.

avatar James Matthew Wilson March 25, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Linker et al. couch their argument on a typical equivocation: they confuse free will (the ability to choose the good), freedom of conscience (the natural law precept that tells us that our ability to choose the good ought not to result in external coercion forcing that choice), and juridical negative freedom (law that expressly forbids legal or even social consequences for a particular kind of choice).

We are all aware that liberal society offers a certain kind of negative freedom, but that does not mean that every exercise of free will endorses juridical negative freedom. In choosing the Good through baptism into the Catholic Church in a society that permits that choice because of negative freedom in no way means that the exercise of free will — which exists in human nature regardless of the political regime — benefits from or supports — much less derives from — juridical freedom.

A faithful Catholic at any point in history must necessarily acknowledge an anthropology that places free will at its center; consequently, such a person, given access to political power, would respect freedom of conscience, knowing that it is integral to a person’s fulfilling his telos. But that same person would no less readily prohibit manifold forms of juridical freedom that the liberal state now protects.

Thus, we can see that the claims these critics make are specious. “Choosing tradition” is not one more consumer choice, because in that very choice one insists that many other choices are invalid, evil, and dangerous — and that these choices should be juridically limited or forbidden, should a true legal authority (one committed to promoting the good rather than clearing a space for greater negative freedoms) come into being. As such, what seems superficially to be just one more liberal choice in a liberal society is actually an attack upon that society and its principles.

To argue otherwise would lead to the preposterous claim that the exercise of the free will is in itself comensurable with liberal society. Though the clerics of the Catholic Church are probably too gone in the teeth to imagine the possibility, some of us faithful Catholics still believe its authority is not a juridical choice made legitimate and safe by liberal society. We believe our lives depend on it.

avatar Kevin J Jones March 26, 2009 at 1:51 am

wilderness of meres quotes Ernest Gellner:

“A real traditionalist does not know that he is one, his tradition simply is his life and his being: once he knows it as a tradition, one among others, or even as opposed to reason, he has been corrupted by his knowledge of something else.”

Alasdair MacIntyre attributes this view to Burke: as soon as his traditionalism becomes self-aware, it is a sign of failure.

“Traditions, when vital, embody continuities of conflict. Indeed when a tradition becomes Burkean, it is always dying or dead…” he writes in After Virtue.

MacIntyre proposes another form of traditionalism, I think in his “Whose Justice? Which Rationality?” (see here: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=985 and here: http://johnschwenkler.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/macintyre-against-burke/ )

Gellner depicts addition as corruption. This is utterly opposed to the synthetic habits of traditionalism as presented in, say, Thomas Aquinas, who aspired to reconcile seemingly antithetical positions.

Modernity, I understand, is more analytic than synthetic. It tries to comprehend reality more by breaking relations between persons or concepts rather than by clarifying existing relations or discovering/creating new ones.

So even a not haphazard application of analytical habits to a synthetic tradition is bound to create misunderstandings.

avatar PDGM March 26, 2009 at 8:43 am

The problem with the “consumer choice” idea is that it sees all choices as the same. But some choices may actually choose what is true; and these by their very definition are completely different from those choices that are either whimsical or false.

To complicate this further, Dreher’s move from Catholicism to Orthodoxy does not obviously fit into this binary schematic. This is, I suggest, because both Orthodoxy and Catholicism are true choices, but use very different metaphors (or perhaps language) to explain their versions of the Christian revelation. But choosing either of them in a serious way is completely different than choosing Macs over PCs, or Prada over Gucci.

Perhaps there’s a real positive form of postmodernism at work in the paragraph above, and in Dreher, say. Recently, I’ve been trying to enunciate just what this positive postmodernism might be. It’s diametrically opposed to the glib BS that most academic theorists espouse, but it allows for a degree of intellectual “give” that would not have been possible seven hundred years ago or more. It is a recovery from the epistemological hubris of the enlightenment, while realizing that intervening modernity has made it impossible to “go back” to the time of Aquinas: along that route lies something like Catholic fundamentalism. All forms of fundamentalism are, I postulate, religion trying to act as if modernity had not happened.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 26, 2009 at 9:57 am

In the midst of a very thoughtful discussion of tradition, authority, modernity, and choice (I particularly like PDGM’s reflection on the possibility of a “postivie form of postmodernism” that may communicate how traditions can give real meaning to our lives but also co-exist with a degree of epistemological “give”; this sounds like the kind ontology which has been frutifully explored by Charles Taylor, Stephen White, Nicholas Smith, and others), all following in the wake of Caleb’s typically bracing and serious challenge, comes Ben with what seems to me to be a genuinely stupid observation:

I was surprised by Damon Linker was when I read his piece on Fatherhood in First Things in November of 2002. [You can find it right here.] After this, nothing he has written or done has surprised me very much. Fundamentally, I think that Linker has fallen in love with a feminist. And that explains everything. In what is really a manly gesture, his recent career crusading against the theocon boogeymen is really a defense of his wife against those whom she perceives as aggressors. I think he is opposed to tradition, and its largest champion, the papacy, because it hurts the feelings of the one he loves. I can’t get too angry about that.

I suppose one might argue that this is meant to be a charitable comment, but, I mean, come on. Ben, are you not aware that Damon Linker has written a whole book on the theocon movement? That he has produced thousands of words as a blogger and public intellectual discussing the complex intersections of liberalism, religion, and democracy in the modern world? Your psycho-sexual explanation of Damon’s worldview is, at the very least, astonishingly reductive. (Not to mention that your insinuation about feminism is unwarranted and just kind of weird.)

As I am saying this as an old friend of Damon’s, my defense of him may well be discounted. Which is fine; I don’t intend this to be an apologia for his views, about which I have disagree with him and argued with him a great deal–and in great detail–over the years. (See here and here, for example.) But as a friend, and also as someone who thinks Damon’s point of view presents a liberal challenge that any community or locality or religiously-minded person (and I am, to a degree, all three) should wrestle with on its own terms–as Caleb did in his original post–I can’t let the suggestion that Damon’s intellectual journey is the result of his being a henpecked husband go by without comment. You’ve got an interesting point of view, Ben; try not to undermine it by saying something dumb.

avatar ben March 26, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Please allow me to apologize for insulting your friend. As a guest in this forum, the remark was inappropriate.

I am aware of Linker’s book, though I have not read it.

My “perspective” informs me that people do not rebel against the church and their benefactors because they have learned to reason better, but because they have sinned.

avatar Mohammad March 26, 2009 at 1:59 pm

nice article, but I had to read it with sweat and effort! Can’t you write in more simple words and expressions?!

avatar Jeremy Beer March 26, 2009 at 2:38 pm

FPR guest contributor Gerald Russello, currently incommunicado, has asked me to post the following (all his words, not mine):

I am very much in sympathy with Caleb’s recent post. However, I think I agree more with one of his commenters that we are all Gellnerians now. If that is the case – if we cannot help but “choose” tradition as one option among many, I think we are forced to face the question of how we reform modern consumerist society into a traditional direction.

Part of this is simply a question of level of detail. There may be many things we do from rote habit, unthinkingly in accord (and properly so) with tradition, and so we may not be full Gellnerians after all. We all can think of such things, I’m sure. Too often, conservative complaints about tradition are at root complaint about whether the traditions others live is full enough. I’m not sure we can do anything about that except live our own lives.

As a slightly different example, is a particular meal made on particular days “traditional”? I grew up with Friday fish fries, especially during Lent, but I could just as well have an egg salad sandwich. Which is traditional and how does one determine it? I see no reason why even regular trips to McDonalds – done with family for example – can’t spur good memories that can themselves become a tradition of family meals, even as fast food is left behind.

Similarly, I grew up in a traditional Sicilian family, which included, as sure as fall follows summer, Saturday night feasts with the relatives, followed by Sunday Mass and pasta. Now let’s leave aside that that “tradition” is almost completely different from how my grandmther, the materfamilias of Saturday, herself grew up. She was raised in an equally “traditional” household, but had nothing like the experiences she gave me.

Now with children of my own, I try to do something similar. Is that an overdetermined “choice for tradition,” and therefore self-defeating, or an affirmation? With Russell Kirk, I can’t help but think cheerfulness will break through. For me that means our individual choices – even as they craft tradition anew – are a worthy effort.

avatar J.D. Salyer March 26, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Mr. Stegall,

Excellently written piece.

Out of consideration for Mr. Fox I will be considerably politer to Linker than I would be otherwise.

One point that I cannot overemphasize: Though Catholic myself, the most infuriating aspect for me was not the desire to see religion marginalized into the status of a harmless hobby having no connection to society or the way we live our lives (so what else is new?), but rather the assumption that “whether you prefer Jane Austen to Dostoevsky” is irrelevant.

I’m offended not as a Christian but as an advocate of the liberal arts.

I can understand a mainstream-liberal insisting upon the compartmentalization of Christianity, given the zeitgeist.

But as somebody who teaches philosophy and literature I never cease to grind my teeth over the assumption of bourgeois-bohemian gourmets of the New World Order who “think that ideas are ping-pong balls,” as Chambers aptly put it, solely existing for the purpose of leisurely amusement.

Actually, no, it DOES matter whether you prefer Austen to Dostoevsky.

Or it should.

(Supposedly Brothers Karamazov is “Condi” Rice’s favorite book; I for one am oh so very happy she didn’t let the pleasure she dervied from Dostoevsky’s quaint, entertaining ideas interfere with her role as a minion of our Glorious Warleader, nor restrain her from indulging in fearmongering about smoking guns & mushroom cloud.)

And Linker’s choice of “entertainments” is not apt in any event.

In our society the more appropriate question is not whether it matters if someone prefers Austen to Dostoevsky, but rather whether it matters if someone prefers Desperate Housewives over either.

Well?

Does it?

avatar J.D. Salyer March 26, 2009 at 5:25 pm

One other point for Mr. Fox, vis-a-vis the inappropriateness & dumbness of Ben’s remark. Hopefully this doesn’t come off more sarcastically than I intend.

Does not stating that Rod Dreher has a “gay fixation”, and slyly hinting at an “obsession with sex” on the part of social conservatives also constitute … well, an “astonishingly reductive” attempt by your friend to suggest a “psycho-sexual explanation” for Dreher’s “worldview”?

Yes, how bizarre of Mr. Dreher; after all, why *would* anyone who accepts the Bible as the revealed Word of God be alarmed about “the normalization of homosexuality in American culture”?

(My, oh my — talk about some strange birds, those sociocons. Perhaps they labor under a pathology.)

I hesitate to generalize based on a single article. But the result of Linker’s “intellectual journey” seems to be an inability to imagine how anybody could possibly have a worldview different from his own.

avatar Danby March 26, 2009 at 5:36 pm

The problem with this discussion is the acceptance of Linker’s language as the terms of the debate. We can easily see from the discussion that his definition of terms leaves no way out. If we choose tradition, we are choosing, and therefore modern liberals. But it is not choice that defines modernism or liberalism. It is rather relativism, the idea that all choices are equally valid.

Someone coming to tradition does not say to himself “All modes of life are equally valid, which shall I live to best fulfill myself?” He asks rather “Is this TRUE?” He accepts that which which is true, regardless of whether he prefers it or not. Truth claims are the question liberals cannot stand, and which they try to preempt via taxonomic sleight of hand like Linker’s Liberal Bargain. “We will let you have whatever quaint religious opinions you like, provided you do not claim that they are true in any real sense.”

When stated in this way, it is obvious that it is a bargain no real religious believer, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or Pagan, can accept. Only by disguising the terms of the bargain can Linker make it seem like a reasonable compromise.

avatar James Matthew Wilson March 26, 2009 at 6:15 pm

I second Danby’s comment since, apparently, nobody understood mine. Mine was, I guess, “What Danby said.” So thanks to him.

avatar Jeremy Beer March 26, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I know Damon a little. Don’t know his wife. But if we can prescind from speculating specifically about his personal motivations, I don’t see anything about Ben’s point that is dumb at all. People often, even usually, build towering theoretical castles upon non- or prerational personal feelings, preferences, and loyalties. Including me. ‘Tis the point or underlying premise of many a good novel, and a big part of what makes such novels good.

avatar Pharisee March 27, 2009 at 10:49 am

The most tired, useless, and simply false criticism of agrarian minded traditionalists is that they partake of the system that they critique. Who cares? Why does it matter that they partake of the system that they critique? They can both critique it and partake of it without any hypocrisy because the heart of the agrarian critique is not fundamentally about the material world. It is rather about how the conditions of the material organization of human life might best compliment a healthy spiritual life. The critique of mass society and consumerism and how these compliment liberal subjectivism is a criticism of how our current system most assuredly contradicts the kind of material circumstances that would compliment a healthy spiritual life.

And for the Christian agrarian the question is even more irrelevant and worthless for the Christian believes in an inner spiritual life regardless of whether or not material circumstances compliment that inner life (this is most true for the martyr who goes to his death). But of course he is also concerned with bringing about material conditions that would be more likely to allow his Faith and that of others to flourish. But it does not follow that because he takes part in the material conditions that he holds are not most conducive to a healthy spiritual life that his criticism of those structures is invalid. It simply means that the Christian Agrarian is at the very least in favor of making himself and others aware of the material hardships of society because these material hardships often bring about occasions of sin. For example, a man should make his fellow men aware that the material conditions of being alone in a room supposedly “working” on a computer are conducive to the sinful viewing of pornography. This does not mean that if that same man while he is alone “working” uses his computer to post in defense of a critique of liberalism that he is somehow a hypocrite. If that same man looks at pornography, masturbates, and then posts in defense of a liberal critique then he is guilty of hypocrisy. However, that does not mean that his critique looses all legitimacy, only that he is a weak man in need of grace through Confession, and the other Sacraments.

If someone who advances such a critique has the time, energy, and ability to do so, he should also work against these conditions in whatever way possible understanding that a realistic assessment of success does not include the hope for radical change in the material conditions of the modern world, for the only meaningful radical change happens within the human soul and fundamentally concerns the next life of which this life is only a shadow; remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.

avatar Russell Arben Fox March 27, 2009 at 11:00 am

People often, even usually, build towering theoretical castles upon non- or prerational personal feelings, preferences, and loyalties. Including me.

Fair enough, Jeremy. Your observation certainly includes me as well. I guess Ben’s point isn’t self-evidentally “dumb”; it could, for all I know (we’re good friends, but we’re not that good of friends), be true, or at least party true. I just thought it was silly, given that Damon has laid out his argument against attempts to ground political life on traiditons (particularly religious traditions) very extensively. Before we go for the reductive explanation, those of us engaged in intellectual argument should at least, I think, give some credit to the reasoned basis of our opponents’ ideas.

avatar J.D. Salyer March 27, 2009 at 1:44 pm

“The most tired, useless, and simply false criticism of agrarian minded traditionalists is that they partake of the system that they critique. Who cares? Why does it matter that they partake of the system that they critique?”

Hear, hear. What he said, that whole post.

I might also add that there is yet another sinister implication in this false criticism and in the overplayed “hypocrisy” card.

As the Leviathan expands over more and more territory it becomes increasingly difficult to survive at all — as an individual, as a family, or as a community — without somehow partaking of Leviathan’s material arrangement.

In other words, the idea is that you must either A.) Shut up and embrace the system as is, or B.) Crawl off into a corner somewhere so you can await extinction without your complaints annoying the rest of us.

If I am principled, why, I’ll boycott computer use altogether, hence getting myself quietly and unceremoniously cut loose by my employers. Then some drone of globalist NWO can take my place instructing the young, and my own family can grow up in impoverished squalor and never be in a position to challenge the regime.

Otherwise I’m a phony hypocrite.

Hooray — it’s a win-win proposition!

avatar Consistent Obfuscation May 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Dude that’s awesome!

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