In Chronicle 586 I attempted to describe in terms as neutral as possible the victimary religion, begun in the Enlightenment, but radicalized after WWII. Instead of fading away with the waning of 20th-century totalitarianism, this faith has only grown more radical since the demise of the Comintern that had hoped to replace “capitalism” with an earthly paradise where we hunt in the morning and fish in the afternoon (activities presumably to be simulated on one’s cell phone).
But radicalization is not unambiguous progress; like the enlarged incisors of the late Smilodon, it tends to amount to painting oneself into a corner. Trump’s presidency, rather than being a hysterical counter-reaction to the progressive reign of virtue, bringing with it (a) dictatorship (b) economic depression (c) famine (d) Armageddon, seems to be doing rather well, and I suspect that most of those who were planning self-exile on the example of the wise Jews who fled Germany before the Holocaust are still at their old addresses. So this is perhaps a good time to start thinking about the victimary faith as being, like Islam, less a religion on the march than an endangered religion, and interpreting its frequently thuggish cum infantile tactics, not too different from those of bratty teenagers that terrorize their parents, as signs of insecurity rather than, as they could still appear in the Obama era, of the arrogance of power.
Despite the Schadenfreude I have not been altogether able to help indulging, my purpose is a serious one: to understand as a religion what Frontpage Magazine (https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm) reductively but helpfully calls simply “the left,” and, I think very much in the same spirit as Daniel Pipes speaks of Islam (and the Palestinians), not wishing to annihilate it, but merely to defeat its overweening ambitions. I would insist that the process of sifting the wheat from the chaff should be left wholly in the hands of the believers themselves, but only once they have renounced their ambitions of world conquest.
I would stress that there is very little in Frontpage and in the David Horowitz school from which it emerges that I actively disagree with. But this said, there is no need for another polemic voice in this field. Whereas Daniel Greenfield in particular is refreshing in the clarity of his moral vision and his witty contempt for spurious accusations of “racism” and “Islamophobia,” I think that as generative anthropologists, we can afford to be a little less hard on “the left,” which is not wholly reducible to Antifa, let alone Pol Pot, just as Islam is more than Daesh and Osama bin Laden.
I am not about to write a history, not even a capsule history, of the Left. I am too old for such a task, and with very few exceptions, the most notable being Carole Landis, I have never been inclined to in-depth research, my tenacity being of both a shorter- and longer-term variety. I will content myself with the old “paternalistic” professorial cliché, Il y a une thèse à faire…, and surely more than one, that would integrate into the notion of a “victimary religion,” perhaps using a different nomenclature, the idea(l)s of the Enlightenment. Today, given the growing distance from the era now known as the “seventeen hundreds,” we tend to treat Rousseau, one of the great inspirers of the revolutionaries, as an opponent of the Enlightenment, forgetting Blake’s “Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau.”
But not merely was the author of Du contrat social a revolutionary political thinker, he was very much the inaugurator of explicit, self-conscious victimary, i.e., leftist, thought. Many years ago I wrote a little article (“The Victim as Subject: The Esthetico-Ethical System of Rousseau’s Rêveries.” Studies in Romanticism 21, 1; Spring 1982) about the opening of his posthumous quasi-autobiographical work Rêveries du promeneur solitaire:
Me voici donc seul sur la terre, n’ayant plus de frère, de prochain, d’ami, de société que moi-même. Le plus sociable & le plus aimant des humains en a été proscrit par un accord unanime.
I recall that in my days at Hopkins I showed this passage to Girard, who I thought would like the accord unanime, but he preferred to study the later forms of this sentiment in Dostoevsky’s “Underground Man.”
Yet tout le victimaire est là. This is not just the “romantic lie” of “mimetic desire,” except in the general sense that all desire refers ultimately to our common scene. No doubt Rousseau takes Christ as his model, but this is not Alyosha’s transcendance verticale but an egoistic identification that turns imitatio Christi into, not mere vanity, but a necessary affirmation of the self—of which the “lie” is only a degraded version.
In short, Rousseau can be understood in Christian terms as guilty of the sin of pride and of seeking to rival with his divine mediator. But he is no longer acting within the Christian orbit: he has effectively founded a new religion. Neither Girard nor I are believers in this religion, nor particularly sympathetic to it (the Bronx Romantic nonetheless far more than he), but I do think it more useful to attempt to understand it in its own terms, as we understand Islam, as an independent interpretation of the originary event—which is how a generative anthropologist must attempt to view all religions and all cultural phenomena worthy of our consideration. The success and then failure of Marxism, not to speak of deviations like fascism, Nazism, Maoism, etc., has blinded their followers, as well as their skeptical critics, to the broader unity that makes the victimary religion a flawed but not altogether worthless offshoot of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition.
The wisdom of the old pecking-order animal hierarchies was that they never opposed the individual to the whole of the society, or what amounts to the same thing, to a sacred central Being. Gorilla #3 just wants to defeat #2; Gorilla #12 doesn’t even dream of defeating #1; but even the most abject human being, as Pascal and Dostoevsky knew so well, is a rival of God. Grandeur et misère de l’homme.
The greatness of Rousseau, which certainly had its monstrous side, was that although he was a super-celebrity, successful as an opera composer as well as a novelist, not even to speak of his philosophical work, this did not prevent him from considering himself the victim of an accord unanime. Unlike the pathetic virtue signalers and Twittermaniacs of our day, Rousseau needed no mediators to express his resentment of God; like Jesus, or Satan, he took on the victimary role directly.
I have already remarked on the tendency of victimary fundamentalism to take the proportional equivalency of ascriptive groups as the only acceptable sign of a “just” distribution of resources, that is, of a validation of the moral model, whereas any deviation from it, unless it favors a victimary group, is a moral flaw to be corrected. This led (see Chronicle 563) to one writer considering mathematical ability unworthy of “privilege,” and just recently we discovered that the Obama FAA was enforcing what is effectively a racial quota system for some of the world’s most critical jobs (see, e.g., https://www.vdare.com/posts/faa-lowers-standards-for-air-traffic-controllers-because-diversity).
What this suggests is that, as in all fundamentalisms, dealings with external reality, which respond to the “metaphysical” rationality embodied in mature language, are forcibly subordinated to the originary, pre-metaphysical considerations preserved in ritual. In every institution, moral equality must be translated into “diversity” lest the institution itself, however materially useful to humanity, be rendered unworthy. Thus every day we learn of some new attack on seemingly valuable institutions; Miss America will no longer celebrate female beauty, the Boy Scouts will no longer focus on young males… all in the service of victimary fundamentalism. This gets close to claiming that the universe was created in 4004 BC. Indeed, claiming that mathematics is “white” is not too far from this, and similar associations of apparently uncontroversial virtues with the sin of “whiteness” have become a daily occurrence.
Every corporation not affiliated with a “conservative” religious organization seems to be jumping on the diversity bandwagon, and universities are spending fortunes without as far as I can tell realizing any of the improvements that affirmative action was designed to create, save increasing the number of “minorities” in various professions. And anyone, such as Professor Wax at Penn, risks the ire of the Twittermob if he or she points out that the beneficiaries of affirmative action don’t really do as well as those from “privileged” groups.
Young people are increasingly indoctrinated with these fundamentalist values, and in contrast to youth’s supposed rebelliousness, so far, at least, they have largely accepted the spuriously “anti-establishment” rhetoric, much as did the first generation of Soviet youth, described with fearsome intimacy in Yuri Slezkine’s The House of Government. We all know how that adventure ended up.
Fundamentalism is designed to be invulnerable to argument. And this is a fundamentalism not grounded on sacred texts, but on moral intuition alone. This appeal is, in terms of Western religion, a maximal Protestantism, where sola scriptura is reduced to the inscription on our soul of the most fundamental moral precept.
Why is “diversity” of ascriptive traits taken as a demonstration of moral equality? Why is a professional group with “the right number” of blacks, women, etc., considered worthy of praise, although by its very nature it excludes others considered unqualified?
The originary sense of moral equality is the closest thing humans have to a “cultural instinct.” Even the most humble know in their heart that they are “just as good” as the most exalted. Our reciprocal use of language guarantees this sentiment; to learn to hear a language is to learn to speak it, at least in childhood when our acculturation is acquired.
And it is no accident that the simplest cultures insist on the equal distribution of the products of the hunt. Most ritual meals even today at least pay lip service to the ideal of equal distribution, in what Homer called an “equal feast.” I need not insist on this; the resentment we all feel when we are slighted tells us that no one, however resigned, accepts in his heart being treated as an inferior. And the French Revolution in particular demonstrated that this pent-up resentment could be a major force for social change.
The ideal of “socialism” affirmed that social evolution could and indeed was bound to realize a society where individual abilities to contribute to it were entirely divorced from their “reward”: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. The socialists were not anthropologists, but it is striking how their ideal corresponded to the moral model that, as I have suggested, describes both the overall outcome of the originary event and the central ethic of hunter-gatherer societies even in the modern era.
But modern society is based on a highly complex division of labor and, as various social experiments have shown, although we are all moral equals, people who know themselves to have rarer qualifications and/or simply work harder than others resent the absence of greater reward for this as much as the others resent inferior compensation. As a result, a “labor market” exists in parallel with the market for goods where those with higher qualifications can bargain for higher wages. This is virtually a universal phenomenon in all but the most rudimentary societies.
The fact that the very conception of the “meritocracy” is, along with mathematical ability, punctuality, and the like, currently among the features of modern society whose “whiteness” is under attack by the victimary religion, reflects the frustration of the fundamentalist who would return to the originary source of the human and its moral sense. But given that socialism even at its best has not succeeded anywhere, whether in Israel or China, without morphing into a market economy, merely condemning the labor market itself as immoral is no longer possible.
I would not go so far as to say that this is a cynical strategy, merely that, given the importance of overcoming ascriptive discrimination in the days following WWII, when the Nazi horror appeared to be the reductio ad absurdum of all such discrimination, the central impulse of postwar victimary religion was to assimilate to ascriptive discrimination all the injustice that socialism saw in the unequal distribution of society’s benefits. De jure discrimination had for the most part been outlawed, but traces still existed, as well as other forms of discrimination (e.g., against homosexuals) that could be considered ascriptive, given that “sexual orientation,” and now, even “sexual identity,” are taken as fundamentally involuntary.
In this way, the necessary violation of the moral model could be assimilated to the perpetuation of “prejudice,” indefinitely postponing the final reckoning, given that all forms of distinction between sexes, races, etc., even the most benign, such as that between Girl and Boy Scouts, or between the appreciation of beauty in women and men, could be alleged as evidence of social imperfection. This would not prevent women from showing off their bodies in ways unavailable to men, merely its public thematization, like that of all modes of sexual and generally of ascriptive difference.
Once more, all examples of victimary logic or PC can simply be understood as reflecting the attempt to envision the entire human universe (and through its ecological extension, the entire animal and material universe as well) in the context of a polite conversation, where one would not point out, for example, that one woman is more attractive than another, or that certain things would be better discussed among men, that is, non-victimary beings.
As I pointed out some twenty years ago (see, e.g., most recently, Chronicle 571), “fairness” is not a transparent concept. Claims that “meritocracy” is “white” demonstrate that the only “objectivity” acceptable to the victimary religion is one that insures that no one is more “privileged” than I am.
The genius of this religion is that it provides a simple formula for moral superiority. But whereas the assimilation of society to a polite conversation is at least remotely conceivable in the US, where immigrants have been generally welcomed and where minority populations are for the most part well attuned to American life, its application in Europe has led to deliberate blindness to such things as the Rotherham rape-“grooming” scandal, and more generally, to a refusal to require “migrants” from the Muslim world to adopt the local way of life.
Here we see the real danger of victimary religion, the fundamental falseness of which is revealed in its inability to successfully organize a society, as true religions—including Islam—can. Instead, it reduces the sacred to a kind of children’s game, where the wildest irrationalities are tolerated, as we see every day in our universities, because they are really of little consequence in a society that still retains a generally unified culture—until, of course, it all spirals out of control, and you can be fired for looking at a coworker for six seconds.
Complacency is hardly to be recommended. The Trump administration could not have come too soon, and the failure of most of the “intellectual” class, including most Jews, who continue to consider Trump the second coming of Hitler, to respond to its overwhelmingly positive effect in stemming the victimary tide is disheartening. But political habits die hard, particularly when they take on religious trappings.
Yet the fact that our young are indoctrinated in the victimary cult as a new orthodoxy gives no proof that they will not decide one day to revolt against its smug moralism. When we bewail the effects of victimary fundamentalism on so many people who should know better, we may take heart from the sad end of the saber-tooth tiger.