It has become a cliché of history as a political morality play that every power relation be judged as that between an oppressor and a victim. Which is to say that, with the exception of “people’s” revolutions, however catastrophic their results, winners are ipso facto in the wrong and losers in the right. Such obviously beneficial phenomena as Europe’s colonization of the New World are condemned as if wholly defined by the despoliation of the “native Americans” by the European settlers. This divorce of moral judgment from overall historical achievement is identical to that implicit in judging disparate impact as a mark of oppression.
This point has become increasingly difficult to raise, as though its very consideration were a proof of “racism.” To the idea that mathematical ability is “white,” hence of value primarily as a marker of whiteness rather than of social utility, corresponds the idea that, just as we live in a society that needs mathematical ability even as we denounce it, so we live in a society founded on Judeo-Christian values whose superiority over other cultures we must equally affect to denounce. Such judgments are treated today in woke circles as self-evident truisms.
Thus does (to paraphrase René Girard) Nazi nihilism triumph in defeat by transforming Western self-affirmation into its opposite. From a “light unto the nations,” the achievements of firstness—and in the first place, of the Hebrews—are redefined as Satanic, not merely in the excesses of their applications, but in themselves. The “whiteness” of mathematics is not simply a mark of privilege, but of evil. The paradox of the felix culpa has been fully undone, and we are back in the Garden being tempted by the snake to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, as if in an LSD-induced Rousseauian nightmare.
We must be able to accept paradox in our judgment of the past. Neither past nor present actions that contradict the model of moral reciprocity can be judged in a purely moral context. If slavery in the modern West can be called immoral, it still survives in the Third World (see, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_the_21st_century ), was the norm in antiquity, and in its origin, was surely a moral improvement over slaughtering one’s defeated enemies.
On the one hand, societies must maintain order; on the other, humanity progresses through competitive innovation; and neither operation can operate without the deferral of reciprocal equality, often far beyond the lifetimes of the first potential beneficiaries. The simple fact that in spite of all backsliding, respect for such equality has greatly increased over the centuries, notably in the West, demonstrates the overall validity of the “Whiggish” faith that the overall course of history brings about moral as well as material progress. The increase in the number of degrees of freedom in our relationship with each other as well as to the natural world, leading to vast improvements in life-span and every other area of “quality of life,” redounds to the credit of the winners in the competition between societies. As Steven Pinker has not tired of demonstrating, despite all the horrors, life has become less violent and death further postponed in virtually every generation. Those “spiritual leaders” who affect to denounce modern society as “materialistic” should think about how much, and how long, they would have enjoyed living under the public health conditions of 250, or even 100 years ago.
What in the context of American politics can still be called “symbolic” confronts very different realities on the international scene. Like the university in the USA, the Israel-Palestine dichotomy can be seen as the international focal point of victimary/oikophobic morality and its fallacious anthropology. The successes of Israel are compared to the failures of “Palestine,” not to praise the first but to condemn it; the less the Palestinians show themselves capable of building a functioning society, the more the Israelis are covered with opprobrium.
In contrast to its unexceptional tolerance of such things as the domination of Tibet and Xinjiang by China, the West’s reaction to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—increasingly less shared by the Arab nations of the Middle East—is exemplary of the potency of victimary ideology in world affairs. The genius of the Palestinian leadership lies in its ability to exploit the age-old distrust of Jewish firstness to realize in the eyes of most of the world the fiction of victimary innocence. In the eyes of Western Europe, Arafat and his successors can do no wrong; their corruption and ineptitude are privileged signs of non-agency. No action of Palestinian terrorists is too vile to arouse universal outrage at the Israeli-Jewish response, whether it be stabbing people in the street or in their homes, sending kites to burn Israeli fields, shooting rockets into Israeli towns, running a kleptocratic dictatorship without even the fetish of elections, murdering Palestinians who sell land to the Jews or speak out against the regime, teaching their children the foulest lies about Israel and Jews in general—all dismissed as effects of the Israeli oppression that absolves Palestinians of moral responsibility for their actions.
In contrast, Israel’s extraordinary achievements in the domain of science and technology, medical, military, and agricultural, far from serving to demonstrate this nation’s value to the world, in contrast with the near-nullity of such contributions throughout the rest of the Middle East, (with the exception of the achievements of the Arab-Muslim citizens of Israel), are tacitly considered proofs of the s….ty little country’s imperialist status.
If the American victimary utopia, for all its flirting with the Big Short, remains largely compatible with the normal operation of contemporary market society, this cannot be said with anything like the same confidence of its European version. There, not surprisingly, the word “socialism” is too close to reality to retain the romantic aura it possesses among young and/or agelessly naïve Americans. Nor does the term “liberalism,” which in Europe connotes faith in the market, correspond to the accepted political model. Indeed, what is striking is the lack of any widely-accepted term (“democracy?”, “republicanism?”). Europe sees itself as a sui generis “union” of states neither sovereign nor federated, defined less by a specific political form than by its adherence to a philosophy of “human rights” that by its nature emphasizes restraint over agency, equality over firstness. European globalism, as I suggested in Chronicle 521, is a utopian universalization of the pan-Germanic Holy Roman Empire, now open not merely to Christians and Europeans but to all who succeed in setting foot there.
The unanalyzed presupposition of the recently challenged “open borders” doctrine is the denial of legitimacy to national firstness, the political equivalent of doing away with patent protection. If a society is successful, it deserves no protection against the invasion of migrants from less successful societies who wish to profit from its success. If indeed firstness is “a light unto the nations,” then once the light has begun to shine, no deferral should be necessary before the “nations” can participate in it. Nor need they pay any entrance fee for profiting from the inventiveness of those who shone the light.
The anthropological foundation of this position is the “moral model” exemplified in the originary event of language, where there was no bonus for having been first to discover the virtues of the aborted gesture of appropriation. But with the advent of predication and the declarative sentence, language becomes the vehicle not merely of sacred but of objective truth, whose criterion is not human reciprocity but reason: empirical accuracy cum logic. The victimary is the final and most perverse consequence of metaphysics/philosophy’s inability to map the path between elementary and truth-telling language, and as a result, between “analytic” morality and “synthetic” ethics.
Trump no doubt owed his 2016 election more to his vocal opposition to illegal (“undocumented”) immigration than to his overall deprecation of the victimary. But even at its worst, such immigration in the US has never, as it does in Europe, threatened America’s continued political-cultural existence. If US self-reproduction hovers around the replacement level of 2.1 children/woman, in Europe it is far lower, and failing some way of radically changing this in the rising generation, the entire continental population, from North to South and East to West, is well along in the process of committing demographic suicide.
The implementation by Muslim immigrants of what the formerly pious Catholic Québecois once called la politique des berceaux, spurred on by Erdogan’s exhortation to Turkish residents in Europe to have not three but five children, is a serious matter, because this population is at best passively integrated into European civilization, and its center of gravity, unlike that, for example, of East Asian immigrants in the West, remains with Islam—a culture explicitly non-, not to say anti-Western from its inception. Nor should this situation be blamed on the Muslim populations themselves, who cannot be expected to develop loyalty to a civilization that not only is incompatible with their traditional values, but deploys ever less energy in defense of its own.
“Interfaith” relations in Europe are increasingly dominated by accommodations of Western norms to Islam, in dress, diet, and relations between the sexes. However much this is presented in the guise of the generosity of a dominant culture toward a dependent minority, the overall effect is rather that of an old, weak culture steadily giving ground to a younger, more assertive one. In this regard, the outrageous decades-long Rotherham and other “grooming” scandals, the multiplication of zones de non-droit in France and elsewhere are sadly revelatory of how much farther Western cultural decline has progressed in Europe than in the US.
No theoretical coup can reverse this situation. Yet it bears repeating that the spirit of the Judeo-Christian West, as expressed in the biblical phrase “a light unto the nations” remains the spirit of the modern age. The historic example of the Hebrews, who have borne the brunt of the resistance to firstness that we know as antisemitism, is still alive, in Israel and in the Western nations it has “enlightened,” and still offers a chance to refute the Cassandras who hope despairingly for this refutation.
Societies must defend themselves. Modern democracies’ impotence in the face of the AntiFa and casseurs—anarcho-victimary activists antithetical to the militia-like chemises brunes with whom a French minister had the bad faith or ignorance to compare them on the occasion of the recent gilets jaunes protests in Paris—is, like Europe’s light prison sentences for even the most heinous crimes, symptomatic of a decline of social order, though not necessarily of its eventual demise. The situation can yet be rectified. Recent “populist” political developments in Europe give far more hope of this than was the case a few years ago, when Obama appeared on the contrary to have brought toothless European post-nationalism to the US, with American support of the archetypal nation of Israel at its lowest point.
Can GA claim to possess the remedy for today’s victimary “socialism,” a variant of the social pathology that in its original forms led to tens of millions of deaths in the 20th century, and that has become, albeit for the moment less violent, even less rational in the 21st?
If the human race survives long enough to be able to look back on the present, it will surely find difficult to understand how a great civilization was able to conceive, along with its ever-advancing technology, such absurd and self-destructive ideas in the name of moral equality. It is therefore all the more urgent to develop an anthropological model that refutes the spurious moral basis of the victimary conflation of firstness with oppression.
The biblical phrase I have thrice quoted, like the other insights that have made Western Civilization the source of the modern world, is powerful, not because it was imposed by force, but because it represented at the time the highest understanding of man’s paradoxical originary nature, as discovered/invented in our scene of origin. If GA is of any value at all, it is in reviving the originary sense of that scene, and thereby validating and deepening the religious revelations through which we have heretofore understood it.
To be continued…