Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Conservatism is Dead. What Comes Next?

 “I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal.” - Hudson, Aliens

Conservatism is dead.

Who would stand athwart history and shout “Stop” at this moment in time? America today is a dystopia.

The ruling class has pilfered the wealth and productivity of three generations of workers, financialized it into securities, and sold it to the globe. Now the factories and infrastructure of the country decay, and with them go our productive capacities. As productivity declines, purchasing power declines, so more currency is printed for billionaires. Productive wages languish while financial wealth soars. The hyperinflation of our currency spells doom for our consumption. “You will own nothing,” and you will not be happy.

Meanwhile, personal autonomy has been discarded in favor of the grossest arguments of collectivism. Parental rights have been handed over to the nanny state. The borders have been left open, even as our citizens have spent the last two years locked in their homes. The freedom of assembly has been abrogated. The freedom of speech has been obliterated. Through the mechanisms of Tyranny, Inc., the federal government has learned that any act or speech it wants to be regulated, it can have corporations regulate on its behalf.

Federal omnipotence is matched only by federal incompetence: The government is no longer competent to craft a budget, maintain a city, or win a war. It is no longer competent to even lose a war. A functioning autocracy can oftentimes achieve national greatness. A dysfunctional kleptocracy can achieve nothing but its own corrupt enrichment, and even that only until the citizens have nothing left to steal.

What then? How do we fight back when the cause seems lost?

“What the Hell we supposed to use man, harsh language?” — Frost, Aliens

One possible response is pure reaction - to move backward. Much of right-wing thought today could be characterized as reactionary. Some reactionaries look to the Roman or Byzantine models, others to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of throne and altar. Even clueless conservatism today is rapidly becoming reaction, albeit a modest reaction that looks only to the classical liberalism of the American founding or perhaps to the feel-good freedom of the Reagan era.

But how can reaction succeed? History repeats itself — and returning to the past will just bring us back to the present in short order. The evolution of liberalism from traditionalism, of socialism from liberalism, of communism from socialism, these were not happenstance. Marx was evil, but he was not stupid. Return to tradition and classical liberalism will follow; return to classical liberalism, and socialism will follow. Look at any country run by a reactionary in the 20th century. For long did they escape the global homogeneity of everywhere else?

How long? Not long.

“Progress” follows “reaction,” even faster than it did historically, because the arguments necessary to advance the agenda of leftism are already well-developed. Immanuel Kant, John Maynard Keynes, and Herbert Marcuse have already been invented. Naivety, virginity, once lost, cannot be regained.

A second possible response is libertarianism - to overthrow the collectivist idols of the past and present and build a new altar in the temple of human liberty.

The problem, of course, is that libertarianism doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for the same reason communism doesn’t work: us.

Aristotle called man a rational and social animal, and proclaimed the good life to be that of a citizen in a polity. Ayn Rand, the Aristotle of libertarianism, deleted the word “social,” and proclaimed the good life to be that of a producer in a market. But in eliminating the social from the rational animal, Rand eliminated too much. Rand’s man became no longer recognizably human.

Rand was a forceful opponent of collectivism, and right to be. Men are not eusocial insects such as ants or bees, and ought not aspire to live as if we were. Communism, as E.O. Wilson said, might be a great idea, but we’re the wrong species for it.

But neither are we a solitary species such as brown bears or leopards. We are primates, creatures of band and brotherhood. Aristotle was right, and Rand wrong, about our need for sociality. Aristotle wrote: “The man who can live alone is either a beast or a god.” Rand was an Aristotelian writing a philosophy for gods — or titans, at least. It is no accident that Atlas and Prometheus were the icons of her work.

Confident, competent, and utterly autonomous of others, Rand’s heroes were also all childless bachelors and bachelorettes. The fertility rate in Ayn Rand novels is no children per woman. By that measure, South Korean is the most libertarian country on Earth. There is no future there.

“I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” — Ripley, Aliens

So what then? We must rebuild from the ground up. We must forge new traditions - inspired by the past, perhaps, but grounded by new arguments. We must forge new shields to defend the beautiful, the good, and the true, and new weapons to assail those who proclaim the gospel of relativism, nihilism, and communism.

How might that be done? It would start by refuting the idea that humanity is a blank slate. In his book A Conflict of VisionsThomas Sowell theorized that the fundamental difference between Left and Right is in its view of human nature: constrained and unconstrained.

The Right believes that human nature is constrained, tragic, fallen, and from this its views logically follow. For instance, stateless utopia is a bad idea because humans are naturally prone to force and fraud; but a leviathan state is a bad idea because the rulers, being humans, will also be prone to force and fraud. Rulers must be incentivized to rule properly, corporations to profit honestly, and so on.

The Left believes that human nature is unconstrained, malleable, ever-improving, and from this its views are inferred. Class warfare and capitalist selfishness will be ended when New Soviet Man has been shaped by the dictatorship of the proletariat, and thence the state can wither away. And so on.

When Sowell wrote, the academic evidence seemed to favor leftism. Every field from anthropology to psychology was committed to viewing mankind as a blank slate, shaped by culture sans biology. Evolutionary psychologist Steve Pinker spearheaded a counterattack with his seminal book The Blank Slatedemolishing the worldview of the tabula rasa. Since then, advances in biology, genetics, and cognitive psychology have demonstrated that human nature is realbiological, and constrained.

If human nature is blank, then Leftism is right and Rightism is wrong. But the opposite is not true. Even if human nature is constrained by nature, our work is not done.

We must also refute the pernicious ideas that life, the universe, and existence are meaningless, random, pointless, and subjective. These are the beliefs that have destroyed the West.

Friedrich Nietzsche declared that God had died and that nihilism would follow. The majority of the scientists and philosophers after Nietzsche concluded that he was right. There was no need or place for the Christian worldview or Christian morality in the future they envisioned.

After all, geology, paleontology, and other physical sciences had demonstrated the astonishing age of the earth and its inhabitants. Darwinian biology had removed the need for a designer to explain the intricacies of life. Physics had proved itself casually closed, eliminating any room for the soul. The conscious mind had been revealed to be an epiphenomenon, free will an illusion.

Even theology was overturned. As explained in The Unintended ReformationProtestantism defeated Catholicism and Orthodoxy by condemning their reliance on Tradition over Scripture, but in so doing set the stage for catastrophe: Scripture was soon undermined by the New Criticism which assailed its validity. The more deeply the Bible was studied, the worse the problems seemed to be come. Mainline Divinity programs were transformed. Where before Harvard had enrolled Christians and graduated Ministers, after it enrolled Christians and graduated Atheists.

And so God died, or was killed, and the slaughter, the catastrophe, the calamity that was the 20th century proceeded just as Nietzsche had predicted it would. The 21st century promises more of the same if Nietzsche is right. Nihilism, materialism, and relativism are anathema to the good, the beautiful, and the true.

But the victory of nihilistic scientism no longer seems inevitable. As ably documented in books such as Stephen Meyer’s The Return of the God Hypothesisand Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly Falsenew discoveries in astrophysics and biology have made the materialist and Darwinian accounts of life and the universe less credible, and alternative accounts (ranging from panpsychic to deist to theist) more credible.

21st-century astrophysics and astronomy now acknowledges that the universe was created at a point in time and that its properties, as a whole, are fine-tuned for life to an improbable degree. Likewise, we now know that our solar system is fine-tuned in its position in the universe and in the structure of its sun and planets. These findings challenge the 20th century account of the universe as arbitrary and life as random. No, they haven’t transformed every physicist into a theist; but they have certainly persuaded some, and have left the atheists on the defense for the first time in generations.

Meanwhile, physicist Henry Stapp’s Quantum Theory and Free Will offers an account of quantum physics that re-opens the casual loop between consciousness and reality. Stapp shows that dualism, rather than materialism, better accounts for the orthodox interpretation of quantum physics; that free will, far from being an illusion, is real and efficacious; and that a universal mind of some sort likely exists. Stapp, again, is not arguing for or from a Christian viewpoint. But he is arguing that the materialist, determinist account of nature is wrong. In private correspondence with your author, he acknowledged that the Stoic concept of the Logos, or something like it, seemed to be entailed.

The mathematical genius Roger Penrose argues along similar lines in The Emperor’s New MindPenrose believes that the computational theory of mind — the conventional assertion that the mind is just a computer — is wrong and cannot explain its ability to discover mathematical truth. Penrose, like Stapp, that consciousness is a quantum phenomenon, and offers a metaphysically Platonic account of truth.

I am not claiming that contemporary science as a whole now supports traditional religion, or that most scientists have abandoned atheism. It doesn’t, and they haven’t. But I am claiming - indeed, I believe it to be incontrovertible — that contemporary science is far more supportive of there being something more going on than the materialist accounts of 20, 50, and 100 years ago. The current trajectory may still be Neo-Darwinist materialism, but the direction of acceleration is towards something else, and high-order thinkers have already begun to realize what is coming. It’s why uber-philosopher Anthony Flew, the world’s foremost defender of atheism, changed his mind about the existence of God.

This, then, seems to me to be the proper grounding for a new right-wing worldview. It would stand as an antithesis to postmodernism. Starting from scientific evidence collected under the current materialist paradigm, we abductively infer the existence of a natural order, designed to produce and support life on earth, and of a human nature that has emerged within that natural order. From there we develop:

  • natural philosophy, which stands in opposition to the materialist and physicalist scientism of the past, demonstrates the existence of a teleological system of the world, and theorizes as to its properties and processes;

  • natural theology, which stands in opposition to the atheism of the past, which demonstrates the existence of a universal mind and theorizes as to its characteristics; and

  • natural law, which stands in opposition to the positivist account of human nature, morality, and law of the past, which demonstrates the existence of moral and political rules that govern the existence of life given human nature within the natural order.

The development of this system thought is (as the engineers say) “nontrivial.” But it has already begun. Early work can be found, here and there, in hidden places of the internet where free thoughts can still be exchanged. This early work has shown that Tradition naturally reappears in this system, because much of Tradition was rightly founded on the natural order. Much that existed in the Enlightenment also reappears — but only those parts that were enlightened. Some of what appears is new, or will be new; the full scope has yet to be determined.

What should this system be called? Having discarded conservatism, libertarianism, and reactionary as labels, I have taken to calling this structure physiocracy, or rule by natural order. And a person who wants to rebuild civilization and reclaim the Good, the Beautiful, and the True, I call a physiocrat. In doing so I honor the physiocrats of old, largely forgotten today, yet worth remembering.

Conservatism is dead. Long live physiocracy.

“LET'S ROCK!” - Vasquez, Aliens