Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Liberal Fascism and Civilization

Today Jonah Goldberg is celebrating the paperback edition of his bestseller Liberal Fascism with Kathryn Jean Lopez.  Of course, he'd like to be getting the sales that Mark Levin is getting with Liberty and Tyranny, but who's complaining?

Of course, fascism celebrates violence, and the liberal fascism a kind of violence-lite as it trashes the rule of law in favor of elite paternalism, and political payoffs to powerful supporters.

In the same issue John Derbyshire delights in a recent dinner with Steven Pinker, of The Blank Slate.  And that leads to the decline of violence.

This wasn’t an intimate one-on-one dinner, but the monthly meeting of my gents’ dinner club, at which Professor Pinker was guest of honor. He talked about the historical decline of violence, the subject of his next book, then a general discussion took off in several different directions.

I've been reading about this recently in Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn and in Charles Taylor's Secular Age. Taylor discusses how the West "civilized" the elite and the poor over the past 500 years, by reducing instinctive violence and sexual license.

This can go overboard, he explains, as in the sexual renunciation ethic of Augustinian Christianity.  But clearly the modern era is built upon a repression of the base instincts.

Naturally there are revolts against this, led in our time by the elite.  Fascism and the Sexual Revolution did not come from the gutter; they came from Romanticism, Nietzsche, and Freud, and well-born chaps like the Bloomsbury set.

Even in our smooth well-ordered world--especially in our well-ordered world--people hanker after the rush of violence and sexual release.  And it's hard to tell who is the good guy.

Christianity has championed sexual repression and also tamed the princes.  But it has also sanctioned religious wars and a celebration of ordinary life and sexuality.

The secularist opponents of Christianity have made much of its sexual repression and its religious wars.  But now they are regulating sexual behavior on campus and establishing speech codes so that people can be free, not of rowdy thugs, but of rowdy opinions.  Or alternatively they celebrate Peace on the one hand and sexual liberation on the other.

You can see that the question of the "civilizing" of the human race is complex, more complex than we allow in our routine partisan exchanges.

And the question lurking over it all is: how far can we go with our civilizing before we turn into vegetables?

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