Thermidor

© 2017 Thermidor Magazine.

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Liberalism: The God With No Name

God and morality are two ideas that don't have a very good reputation in contemporary society. Popular author and Very Famous Scientist Richard Dawkins offers a curt statement of the orthodox Liberal view of God:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

The Christian God, paradoxically, emerges at once as a fearsome arch-despot and oppressor of Mankind and as utterly impotent, an ontological nullity, a hallucination, a lie fabricated by mendacious priests in an effort to hold back the flowering of human self-fulfillment and the pursuit of Happiness. The privileged instrument of this rather sadistic enterprise was "morality", a set of arbitrary man-made rules with which the individual was bridled and saddled, and in the name of the non-existent God kept individuals cowed in servitude before kings and priests, stifled their creativity, repressed their sexuality, held back their earning-power and material standard of living, forbade their pleasures, and generally did whatever it could to frustrate their well-being at every turn. Morality forced a self-abnegating surrender of personal autonomy and authenticity to duty, and made happiness yield to social obligation. It forced women to marry and have children when they yearned for fulfilling careers outside the home, and obliged men to be men when they inwardly yearned to become women. In the illusory names of God, Nature, and Right, everyone was expected to put the needs of others before their own, and to accordingly sacrifice all their personal dreams and ambitions, and their authentic selves.

Today we are all far too Enlightened for any of that, of course. Through the revolutionary intervention of the hallowed Founding Fathers, and the heroic struggles of the women and minorities who followed in their wake, we have built a wall of separation between Church and State, caused all religious displays to be removed from the government buildings hitherto desecrated by their presence, and generally banished religion from the public square. Likewise, we have at long last come to see the folly, and moreover, the inherent illegality of "legislating morality", and frame all our laws according to the sole and supreme end of enabling each individual to do and/or acquire the things that he judges to result in an increase of his happiness, as long as he does not hinder others from doing the same. The ends that the individual chooses to pursue are, in this utilitarian conception, held to absolutely stand above any objective moral standards or value-judgments. As a standard reference-work on the utilitarian theory of human action has it:

The ultimate goal of human action is always the satisfaction of the acting man's desire. There is no standard of greater or lesser satisfaction other than individual judgments of value, different for various people and for the same people at various times. What makes a man feel uneasy and less uneasy is established by him from the standard of his own will and judgment, from his personal and subjective valuation. Nobody is in a position to decree what should make a fellow man happier. [...] The ultimate end of action is always the satisfaction of some desires of the acting man. Since nobody is in a position to substitute his own value judgments for those of the acting individual, it is vain to pass judgment on other people's aims and volitions. The critic...in dictatorial arrogance blithely disposing of his fellow's will and aspirations, declares what condition of this other man would better suit himself, the critic.

In keeping with the democratic and egalitarian sensibilities of the age, each idiosyncratic individual want and preference is both equally meaningless and somehow sacrosanct, at once beneath and above scrutiny. As the Supreme Court of the United States wrote: "at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." If you don't want an abortion, don't have one. Stop being so judgmental. Just who do you think you are, anyways?

God, then, is dead, and everything is permitted, as long as it causes no harm; the message triumphantly blares out of every Cathedral apparatus day in and day out. But a close inspection of the facts suggests that things are a bit more complex than what superficially meets the eye. Dalrock recently uncovered a really striking feminist exhortation to women in troubled marriages to leave their husbands at once:

Go, even though you love him. Go, even though he’s kind and faithful and dear to you.
Go, even though he’s your best friend and you’re his.
Go, even though you can’t imagine your life without him.
Go, even though he adores you and your leaving will devastate him.
Go, even though your friends will be disappointed or surprised or pissed off or all three.
Go, even though you once said you would stay.
Go, even though you’re afraid of being alone.
Go, even though you’re sure no one will ever love you as well as he does.
Go, even though there is nowhere to go.
Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay.
Go, because you want to.
Because wanting to leave is enough.

Ostensibly, this advice is given in the interest of maximizing the happiness and want-satisfaction of the women it is offered to- but its reasoning is far removed from the hedonic calculus of utilitarianism. A woman "wants" to leave her husband, and therefore must- no matter the personal costs involved, and moreover, in active, determined spite of any competing want not to. She is to do what she wants, whether she wants to or not. "Wanting to leave", then, isn't a matter of abandoning oneself to desire, nor of rationally weighing costs and benefits, pains and pleasures, but of ruthless Stoic self-overcoming, heroically selfless action in the service of a duty as opposed to indulgence of the pleasure principle. In short, what we're looking at, far from mere hedonism, is a morality in its own strange right. The same Liberty that vindicates the right of individuals to choose their own ends and define their own concept of existence, it seems, does not merely permit; it commands what it permits. Beneath the surface of utility-maximizing gratification of inscrutable private wants and tastes, there lies a public morality with public obligations to which the individual is attached on an a priori basis independently of her will, a Divine calling that the individual is in no position to refuse, since it derives not from idiosyncratic personal desires and preferences, but from the nature of things, and from a higher power.

Is this all so much overwrought interpretation on my part? The author decisively removes any doubt:

I didn’t want to stay with my ex-husband, not at my core, even though whole swaths of me did. And if there’s one thing I believe more than I believe anything else, it’s that you can’t fake the core. The truth that lives there will eventually win out. It’s a god we must obey, a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees.

It should be underscored that these statements were made not in a personal memoir or confessional, but in the context of authoritative advice addressed to others, a public exhortation prescribing objective normative standards of conduct. The author is not merely recounting the subjective reasons why she forsook her own marital vows, but arguing why other women ought to. Evidently, the Liberal taboo against being "judgmental", and the associated utilitarian conception of values as inscrutably subjective tastes and preferences that can never be meaningfully rank-ordered, applies only when those values are judged and rank-ordered according to Christian standards. The woman who decides to abandon her family exercises a sovereign individual right to define concepts of existence and mysteries of life that stand beyond the very possibility, let alone the legitimacy, of rational scrutiny. But the woman who, upon considered deliberation, decides not to- she can expect swift and severe judgment from a whole swarm of advice columnists, psychiatrists, daytime-TV hosts and panelists, sex educators, and other public and private busybodies, all of whom render their verdict with the full weight and imprimatur of accredited science behind them, and pontificate as authoritatively as any Pope ever did.

Moving along from this particular case-study to the general, here are a few general theoretical propositions:

-There is no such thing as Liberalism. No human society actually does, or possibly can, leave the conduct of its members up to the caprice of utility-maximizing satisfaction of random individual wants, regulated only by positive law somehow divorced from morality, nor is any society prepared to regard its highest moral values as so many private tastes among others with no possible standard for rank-ordering and judging between them. No society ever did, or ever will, allow that e.g. my desire to scratch my ass stands on a par with the desire of a volunteer to die for his country; and every society prescribes what it defines as the right way, and proscribes the wrong way, for its members to go about the "pursuit of happiness" at the level of both means and ends. Liberalism is a crock, a fraud, and an ideological ruse. The promised land of equal freedom for all individual choices and voices under the auspices of a value-neutral "rule of law" is a Schlaraffenland that has never been implemented anywhere and cannot be.

What actually exists in human history are regimes of public morality that, in the final analysis, command the types of conduct they permit; and Liberalism is but one such regime among others. What superficially appears as "freedom of choice", "Constitutional rights", "preference-maximization", etc. is nothing more than the transitory by-product of the process whereby Liberalism displaces competing regimes of morality. Here the individual is permitted (and required) to ostentatiously break and/or insult the moral rules and strictures of the old regime- rules that have already been condemned to nullity, desuetude, and illegitimacy by the new, Liberal regime. What is given such exalted names as "liberation", "empowerment", "creative destruction", "innovation", and so on amounts to no more than a sort of victory dance and public promulgation of the new moral regime (cf. Moldbug's remarks on the social semiotics of protest actions). Anybody naive enough to actually take these libertine-sounding boasts at face value and dare to take similar liberties with Liberal pieties can expect to be promptly ostracized, fired from his job, and prosecuted at law- just as he would have for doing so with respect to the pieties of the old moral regime back when the latter was still in effect. In short, the individual has exactly the same "freedom" as a slave who has been sold to a new owner, and thus released from any obligation of obedience to his former master.

-There is no such thing as atheism. No society, I have said, can leave the value make-up of its individual members up to the random idiosyncratic wants, tastes, and opinions of those individuals; such a society would quickly degenerate into a Hobbesian state of nature and remain forever stuck there.

Our societies, in any case, are certainly not prepared to try; the extremely aggressive moral absolutism and radically intolerant demand for conformity down to the smallest minutiae of thought and conduct that comprise the reality behind the Liberal banners of "diversity" and "choice" should speak for themselves here. The conspicuous unprincipled exceptions that the Liberal tradition makes to the various social-science theories and findings upon which it grounds its official doctrine of immoralism (the aforementioned utilitarian conception of values in economics; social constructionism and historicist relativism in sociology; Darwinian/evolutionary perspectives in psychology; etc.) constantly betray an extraordinarily strident and self-certain moralism. For the economists, all values are so many personal preferences, and any attempt to evaluate them in deonotological terms is so much irrational nonsense- and yet it is self-evidently true that policy-makers ought to respect the rights of capital, even though it may be the personal preference of those same policy makers to, say, socialize the means of production. For the sociologists, all values are so many historically variable man-made constructs, "ideological" appendages of the class and power structures of a particular society at a particular time with no universally valid contents- and yet social inequality is always bad, and you should be against it for some reason. For the evolutionary psychologists, all values reduce to the supreme telos of biological continuity- but birth control, sodomy, robotic sex-dolls, and open-door immigration are all to be celebrated and promoted, the Darwinian hoo-hah about "reproduction" notwithstanding.

Clearly, then, when it comes to values Liberalism surreptitiously makes certain reservations and sets certain limiting-cases with respect to the scientific naturalism it ordinarily extols. Some values, it seems, are trans-individual, trans-historic, and transcendent. Some values are more than inscrutable subjective tastes and opinions, but objective deontological precepts binding on every rational subject; they are valid for all time and every place in which those subjects may find themselves, regardless of local social dynamics; and they cannot be derived from brute matter, from the Darwinian nexus of unconscious biological drives and the physical properties of the physical environment to which the organism must adapt.

It follows that there must be, for Liberalism- as for any morality- a transcendent originary font, a Sovereign final authority with overwhelming power and irresistible might that can endow moral precept with the character of binding law and universal duty incumbent upon every human subject, as opposed to private wants and tastes without force. This Sovereign authority cannot possibly be the State; the Liberal doctrine of the "separation of powers" decisively closes the door on the possibility of the State creating morals by Sovereign fiat. Not that the Liberal tradition actually believes its own humbug that "you can't legislate morality", which it does all the time (along with every other social order that ever existed, or will). Rather, under the "separation of powers", Liberalism reserves the right to define just which morals will be enshrined at positive law to the distributed apparatus of bureaucrats, physicians, entertainers, crusading women of colour, professors, non-profits, and other actors colloquially known as "the Cathedral", with respect to which the State per se is no more than an instrument, a dragoon, and a policeman.

This quasi-Brahminate bears no arms and has no self-sufficient power of its own, but rather claims the right to direct the exercise of the public power of the State. The Cathedral's claim to social paramountcy, therefore, would be totally empty, and elicit nothing more than derisive laughter from the public for its pretentiousness and punishment from the State for its insolence, as opposed to the apologetic deference it is presently accorded at every level, were it not one way or another grounded in a putative supra-human and Divine mandate. For all its hostility to (Christian) religion and (Christian) religious doctrine, it would be superficial and an abuse of language to call the Liberal regime "atheist". The Cathedral, like its predecessor, the Church, supervenes over all social affairs in the name of God- with the difference that the Cathedral does so in the name of a God that has no name.

The God with no name is the God of a civilization in which the scope and reach of political power is constantly inflating in the direction of approximating the total, and in the course of becoming more and more totalizing takes on a diffuse, depersonalized, and anonymous character.

The Christian conception of a personal God corresponds to a social order in which authority of any kind is given in well-defined, formal hierarchies that:

  • rigorously delineate social distinctions between subordinates and superordinates: e.g. women and men, children and parents, servants and masters, subjects and Crown, flock and Church

  • explicitly vest authority in natural persons: e.g. husband, father, lord, King, Pope.

Everybody knows just who exactly is boss in such a system, and there is always a boss. Since power is personal, embodied in a real person who has the last word in his sphere of competence, it can never be truly totalizing even, and as paradoxical as it may seem, when it is absolute- since it is inherently localized and bounded to the extent that it resides in this or that definite, particular individual.

The theological expression of this type of social order is the conception of a personal God that, while omnipotent and omniscient, isn't everything and anything, but a Creator rigorously distinguished from His creation. God, therefore, although He cannot be bounded by time and space, is nonetheless a definite entity that can be identified as such and given a name. Furthermore, His authority, while perfectly and exhaustively absolute, isn't totalitarian. Far from it: God disdains to intervene directly in human affairs for the most part, and even goes as far as to see fit to leave submission to His authority up to the free will of men, who are at perfect liberty to refuse if they are willing to hazard eternal damnation as the price.

In the modern democratic order, power is radically depersonalized, deindividuated, and dehumanized. Power no longer inheres in flesh-and-blood human beings, but Constitutional constructs with no human shape or face, the abstract machinery of the State apparatuses whose human operators are but so many interchangeable machine-minders with no inherent authority of their own. Following the teachings of the English Whigs, above all John Locke, the democracies hold that personal authority is a monstrosity, absolutely incompatible with liberty and the very existence of society; sovereignty is broken down into its constituent parts (legislative, executive, and judicial power) and then recombined in an impersonal and anonymous State mechanism in which, by design, no human being in particular is in charge or can be (“separation of powers”).

This faceless Sovereign power is doubly anonymous in that Liberal ideology prevents it from being directly named as such. In polite Liberal discourse, it is very poor taste, almost scatological, to refer to the State by name, and downright scandalous to speak of “Sovereignty” (except in a strictly medical-diagnostic sense, viz. to designate a dangerous superstition that grips the unenlightened minds of Russians, Trump supporters, and other pathological people). Liberal ideology has it, after Locke, that the Liberal State machine was instituted in order to overcome the horrors of Sovereignty (the "arbitrary will" of the despot crazed by absolute power, which corrupts absolutely, and all that) and so must designate its own, formidable Sovereign power indirectly by way of various euphemisms, e.g. "democracy", "the will of the people", "Reason", "human rights", and above all, "the rule of law not men"- notions all defined in opposition to Sovereignty, and that, it is hoped, will one day banish the latter from the Earth.

All of this, of course, is an empty ideological boast and inversion of the facts. Time and time again the historical record has shown that when Liberalism or its variants (Socialism, etc.) promise to abolish Sovereignty (Marx: "the State will wither away"), they mean personal Sovereignty. Liberalism does not abolish Sovereignty or come close to doing that. On the contrary: not only is Sovereignty conserved in the process of being dismembered in the "separation of powers" and its components redistributed to a plurality of nodal points within the State cyborg (here to the so-called "people", there to the legislature, the President, the courts, the bureaucracy, the NGOs, the Ivies, etc.), the scope, reach, and destructive capacity of this power dramatically inflates to historically unprecedented, nearly God-like proportions. Among other factors that make this totalization of power possible, the following are germane here:

  • Personal Sovereignty in the form of e.g. "absolute" monarchy is limited in that power inheres in one man who, as one man, is hamstrung within the limits set by his physical body, which can only do so much, and in any case is doomed by the laws of biology to perish in less than a century. No such constraints apply to the abstract machinery of the Liberal State, which can grow as expansively, accomplish as much, and endure for as long as it can find functionaries to operate it (and the latter are never in short supply!).

  • Personal Sovereignty, because it is embodied in a concrete person who can be identified and named as the Sovereign, is localized and situated, and is therefore, to at least some extent, particularistic. One is always head of this or that particular household, lord of this or that manor, King of this or that country- but never father, lord, or King in general, since these names have no sense detached from their particular referents. Depersonalized and anonymous Sovereign power isn't encumbered by any of this, to the extent that it is depersonalized and anonymous. The euphemisms in which it cloaks and conceals itself- "democracy", "the will of the people", "Reason", "human rights", and "the rule of law not men"- are concepts of universal applicability not tied to any concrete situational referent in particular, and can be exported (i.e. imposed at gunpoint) anywhere.

The theological corollary of Liberal power (which, it should go without saying, is never made formally explicit) is to reconstruct the idea of God along similar lines. The personal God of Christianity is reconstituted in terms of an ineffable pantheistic principle; a totalizing and nameless All that is in all, and vice-versa. This nameless, faceless God exists only in, through, and as its Creation- in exactly the same way that the Liberal State is held, by Liberal ideology, to exist only in, through, and as the will of the so-called "people", and for the same reason.

The God with no name accordingly governs men not by personally issuing them commands that they can, in turn, refuse to obey, but through deterministic laws of motion that are immanent in human action itself, and which govern the course of human history according to an inexorable and irreversible trajectory of becoming, i.e. the progress of Reason towards its destiny ("the arc of history bends towards justice"). "Reason" isn't just a set of abstract speculative oughts and ought-nots that men can choose to ignore, but a real and causally effective force (Hegel: "the rational is real") that exerts a pull as irresistible as the laws of physics- as Ms. Strayed above put it, "a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees".

An important corollary is that where the one who defies the will of a personal God is a rebel and a sinner who deserves to be punished, the one who fails to conform to the dictates of Reason is pathological, a sick person who stands in need of therapeutic "help". Soviet psychiatry, far from an isolated "Stalinist" aberration, was in fact simply the most coherent and direct expression of the theory and practice of religious discipline in any Liberal regime.

Finally, the God with no name is an All that is in all. On the one hand, and as we have seen already, this means that there can be no possible degree of freedom outside the totalizing pantheistic All, which isn't just the Creator of the universe, but ontologically consubstantial with it. In other words, it is perfectly and exhaustively totalitarian. On the other hand, since this All is in all, in everybody, it follows that anybody can take it upon himself to pronounce authoritatively on its behalf, to interpret its will and moreover, impose that will upon others. This has the effect of unleashing, in the democratic society, a plague of SJWs, health and safety crusaders, and other self-appointed saints and holy Brahmins who devote themselves to endlessly harassing and tormenting their fellow citizens like swarms of horseflies. "Democracy" means that those on the receiving end of this treatment (which can range anywhere from institutional codes policing the smallest minutiae of thought and personal conduct to violent physical assault in the streets) must deferentially submit to it without complaint- even though those who dish it out to them are their legal peers and equals, and have no formally-defined priestly or, for that matter, any other form of authority.

This lack of formal authority, in turn, ensures that these saints are chronically insecure in their self-appointed status. Hence the intense competition, within their own ranks, in the form of the notorious "holiness spirals" in which each seeks to establish a claim to special grace through a display of extraordinary zeal, devotion, and virtuosity (above all, by purporting to discover hitherto invisible forms of "oppression" where nobody ever saw them before). The inevitable result of these contests is that their demands become ever-increasingly exquisite, bizarre, and intrusively meddlesome.

These excesses are presently in the process of metastasizing from the campus, where they were hitherto confined, to State and society at large. The traditional moral crusades that Christian religion used to episodically give rise to pale in comparison; where the latter might have demanded a local crackdown or two on streetwalkers or something for a few weeks before fizzling out, the priesthood of the God with no name, the SJWs- many of whom are released from productive work in order to make a full-time career of it, with salaries underwritten by the big foundations-seek nothing less than to redesign society from scratch according to a spec-sheet that is itself drawn anew with each holiness spiral. No aspect of life is too trivial, too intimate, or too privileged to escape being noticed and remade in the SJW's image-or banned altogether. Intelligent Libertarians ought to reflect on the present situation in light of Bob Dylan's words: "you're gonna have to serve somebody". If you have to serve somebody- and the foregoing analysis suggests that Dylan was correct- from the point of view of Libertarian concerns the best bet by far is subjection to traditional government under the inherently moderate auspices of throne and altar. It might mean less porn and weed, less anomie and alienation, and more time spent at Church and with your family and fellows each week; it might mean less voting, and less weighing in on matters of State that don't concern you; but it will also mean liberty based on a rock-solid foundation of natural social arrangements and relationships- real liberty, not the high-sounding but fraudulent promises of paper Constitutions and Bills of Right that, in the final analysis, amount to so many charters authorizing the State and the Cathedral to take away your rights.