Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression: The Nature and Origins of Conservaphobia, Part Three

Here are highlights from this work in progress by philosopher Rony Guldmann:

* The populist conservatives of the Tea Party movement are to be celebrated, not for the accuracy of their assertions, the cogency of their arguments, or the wisdom of their prescriptions, but for the kind of people they are, ornery Americans. To critique Tea Party conservatism intellectually is therefore to commit a category error. These conservatives’ anger is not ultimately “driven by intellectual arguments” and therefore “cannot be brought to an end through intellectual arguments.”83 Their objections to this or that federal program may be less than cogent. But the “the ostensible issues,” says Harris, “are always secondary,”84 merely the accidental mediums through which something more fundamental is being asserted. And this is the anarchic will of free men, which the elites are hell bent on extirpating but which the populist conservative will defend at all costs.

* Conservative claimants of cultural oppression resent, not modern society per se—whose comforts and conveniences they do not, as Harris notes, really care to repudiate—but rather the organized affect structure that emerges out of it, the properly ordered sociability of the buffered identity. In issuing their claims of cultural oppression, conservatives express their longing for a mode of experience that is less compromised by this sociability’s demands—less rationalized, intellectualized, and disengaged—a yearning for what they intuit to be human nature’s default, and hence authentic, form of consciousness.

* Like the elites of old, today’s liberals insist that the lower orders be “not left as they are, but badgered bullied, pushed, preached at, drilled, and organized to abandon their lax and disordered folkways and conform to one or another feature of civil behavior.” Seen in the context of the mutation counter-narrative, the E.P.A. and other liberal institutions are merely carrying forth this longstanding tradition. Conservatives understand their conservatism as their resistance to the badgering and bullying, and this is why they cannot be see liberals as tyrants and usurpers, cryptofascists who are always scheming to undermine the natural liberty of the conservative. Liberalism has become ascendant, not by providing compelling solutions to discrete problems, but by suppressing and discrediting the free human nature that the conservative strives to retain.

* The difference between liberals and conservatives is not the difference between secularism and religion, but a difference in the degree to which the latter has been compressed into the former. Conservatives can decry a “religion of secularism” or a “religion of secular humanism” where liberals see only the histrionic posturing of populist rabble-rousers because where liberals see the categorical subtraction of religion, bare secularism, conservatives see what Taylor describes as the compression of the religious and the secular into a “spiritual-secular whole.” That is, they discern the religious origins of what liberals accept as liberated human nature—which they themselves do not experience as liberating. This compression also explains how conservatives can casually oscillate between accusing liberals of moral subjectivism, relativism, or nihilism and accusing them of insufferable moralistic zealotry. The compression qualifies as nihilistic when viewed from the side of the religious—e.g., the loss of traditional values—and morally puritanical when viewed from that of the secular—e.g., liberals’ totalitarian will to impose their politically correct utopias. Both characterizations ultimately refer us to the same phenomenon seen from different angles, each of which articulates how a more pre-modern consciousness must process a more modern one. Conservative claims of cultural oppression are not contrived because they are, properly understood, logically derivable from what is a clash of cosmological orientations.

* If conservatives will not permit themselves to be intimidated by liberal intellectualism and instead adopt an anthropological stance that treats this intellectualism as a mere cultural parochialism, this is because their deeper, instinctive “ways of knowing” apprise them of this meta-truth, which cannot be allowed to be overshadowed the ordinary truths upon which liberals rest their arguments. To the extent conservatives are anti-intellectual, this is because they follow feminism in engaging in what Anne Philips calls a “politics of presence” rather than a “politics of ideas.” Whereas the latter detaches ideas from basic human experience, the former emphasizes the interrelationship between ideas and experience in order to permit “a more exploratory notion of possibilities so far silenced.”

* For the naturalization of the buffered identity and the erection of entire social order on that basis cannot but leave its enemies with only a vague and inchoate sense of what might lie beyond it.

* Harvey Mansfield writes that whereas rational control “wants our lives to be bound by rules,” manliness “is dissatisfied with whatever is merely legal or conventional.” While rational control “wants peace, discounts risk, and prefers role models to heroes,” manliness “favors war, likes risk, and admires heroes,”107 Manliness “seeks and welcomes drama and prefers times of war, conflict, and risk.”108 It “tends to be insistent and intolerant,”109 just as it is “steadfast…taking a stand, not surrendering, not allowing oneself to be determined by one’s context, not being adaptive or flexible.”110 Manliness must “must prove itself and do so before an audience.” It seeks “to be theatrical, welcomes drama, and wants your attention.” By contrast, rational control “prefers routine and doesn’t like getting excited” and must therefore seek to keep manliness “unemployed by
means of measures that encourage or compel behavior intended to be lacking in drama.”111

Manliness thus conceived is the antithesis of the buffered distance, the repudiation of its ordering impulses. The defense of manliness is at its deepest level a protest against the rationalizing forces of the modern world, against the peculiarly courtly rationality, a rationality that is hostile, not only to actual contests of swords, but also to the entire range of virtues and identities which these embodied, however they are now expressed.

* The market has come to represent the anti-structure suppressed by the disciplines and repressions of the buffered identity, man’s submersion in forces he does not control and whose unpredictable logic he cannot fathom, his openness to something that transcends his will and can upset all of his designs.

* “The culture of the New Class exacts still other costs: since its discourse emphasizes the importance of carefully edited speech, this has the vices of its virtues: in its virtuous aspect, self-editing implies a commendable circumspection, carefulness, self-discipline and “seriousness.” In its negative modality, however, self-editing also disposes toward an unhealthy self-consciousness, toward stilted convoluted speech, an inhibition of play, imagination and passion, and continual pressure for expressive discipline. The new rationality thus becomes the source of a new alienation.

Calling for watchfulness and self-discipline, CCD [culture of critical discourse] is productive of intellectual reflexivity and the loss of warmth and spontaneity. Moreover, that very reflexivity stresses the importance of adjusting action to some pattern of propriety. There is, therefore, a structured inflexibility when facing changing situations; there is a certain disregard of the differences in situations, and an insistence on hewing to the required rule.”

* Conservatives’ reservations about educational meritocracy, their disposition to elevate the entrepreneur above the recipients of prestigious diplomas, awards, and posts, reflects, not raw antiintellectualism, as liberals believe, but the perception that meritocracy implies the inauthentic repudiation of anti-structure to which conservatives are prepared to expose themselves, and that this repudiation is the origin of liberals’ surreptitious authoritarianism and parochialism.

* What George Will condemns as liberal condescension toward “masses making messes” and Goldberg condemns as the
New Dealers’ “contempt for the ‘disorganized’ character of capitalism”122 are the economic expression of the buffered identity’s ordering impulses, which the ordinary American naturally resents.

* modern intellectuals are the legacies of the aristocrat and the priest. Having inherited the leisurely playfulness of the former and the truth-seeking piety of the latter, they have also inherited the egalitarian animus which these qualities have historically provoked.123 But where liberals see intellectual freedom and truth-seeking, conservative claimants of cultural oppression must, as the pre-modern outsiders looking in, perceive the peculiarly courtly rationality. Hence Kahane’s accusation that liberals can “[a]t a drop of a Rolodex…come with a rotating hit squad of well-placed academics ready to pounce and opine upon just about anything having to do with you.” Its “people are trained practically from birth as an instant-response team, the weaklings and the physical cowards who sought the safety of a sinecure instead of the mortal combat of life but who still get the thrill of shooting inarticulate fish in a barrel.”124 Liberals will dismiss this as an empty ad hominem, as an obscure and illdirected grievance and frustration. But what is the “sinecure” enjoyed by liberal academics but a contemporary iteration of the royal pension that an absolutist monarch might have deigned to bestow upon courtly supplicants, emasculated warriors-turned-courtiers? If academics are competent to discredit conservative claims of cultural oppression as easily as one “shoot[s] inarticulate fish in a barrel,” do they not owe their superior eloquence to the conditions that first generated it? These conditions are the rituals of courtly supplication and manipulation that, as Elias says, came to constitute “the basic stock of models of conduct” that gradually spread “to ever-wider circles of functions”—including those that can be found on the liberal Rolodex.

* Ingraham warns that “[p]arents would be disturbed to know that it is common practice among pediatricians these days to tell the moms and dads to leave the room so the ‘professional’ can have private chats with children—chats that involve controversial topics like abortion, premarital sex, masturbation, and birth control.” The basic presumption, whether at work in doctor’s offices, schools, or government, is that the “‘experts’ know best” and that “[p]arents are too ignorant, too ‘traditional,’ and too incompetent to be left ‘unsupervised’ to direct the lives of their own children.” Though conservative claims of cultural oppression are often seen as concerned solely with the defense of traditionalism against the secular modernism of the elites, this struggle is intertwined with another one centered on defending individual self-reliance and common sense against the claims of expertise and professionalism.

* Christina Hoff Sommers argues that our culture’s contemporary “therapism” emerged with the waning of traditional religion129 and is premised on the proposition that “vulnerability, rather than strength, characterizes the American psyche…and that a diffident, anguished and emotionally apprehensive public requires a vast array of therapists, self-esteem educators, grief counselors, workshoppers, healers, and traumatologists to lead it through the trials of everyday life.”

* Whether it be through the admonitions of the family doctor, the solicitude of therapists, the decisions of credentialing agencies, or the disciplinary specialization of universities, the basic message is that ordinary Americans must be supervised by liberals, who are acting in their capacity as liberals even as they profess to be only committed professionals just trying to get the job done.

* conservative claimants of cultural oppression are animated by the visceral conviction that the modern liberal identity is as Taylor says “one historically constructed understanding of agency among others”—and not essential liberated human nature.

* Liberalism is not the transcendence of all herosystems, but merely the deceptive and self-deceptive histrionic mimicry of that transcendence. Liberals believe that they offer only hard-nosed critiques of anachronistic prejudices. But conservatives suspect, with Gouldner, that “the negativity of intellectuals embodies a disguised set of claims advancing their own candidacy as a new elite” and that this negativity is therefore but “the opening move in the replacement of the old by a new class, and of an old tradition and hierarchy by a new one.”146 Irreducible to bare critique—as in “reservations about past and present policies”—the negativity of intellectuals is also the expression of a particular hero-system, a particular ideal of the overall human make-up, the buffered self. This is the liberal elites’ “disguised set of claims,” which is usually disguised for the elites themselves, who can therefore see nothing beyond their good intentions.

* It is often said that political discourse in America is now plagued by ever-increasing incivility, by
an alarming unwillingness to approach opposing views’ with any modicum of open-mindedness and a correlative indulgence in ad hominem rhetoric. This, it is held, is a destructive trend that, in impeding our ability to intelligently debate “the real issues,” poses a danger to the health of democracy itself. Amy Gutman and Dennis Thompson lament that “citizens do not reason together so much as they reason against one another” when they “reflexively attack persons instead of policies, looking for what is behind policies rather than what is in them.”147 The theoretical irrelevance of ad hominem attacks is axiomatic among sophisticated thinkers. But on another level, what may seem like raw incivility constitutes a special kind of lucidity into the existentially deepest stakes of the debate. The ad hominems of conservatives are attempts to impugn, not the surreptitiously ignoble motivations of liberals, but the basic categories through which liberals make sense of themselves. Beyond imputing generic vices like arrogance to liberals, these attacks seek to describe a particular identity which liberals cannot recognize as such. The trope of the emaciated, pointy-headed intellectual is indeed a caricature. But it is a caricature that expresses conservatives’ sense that liberals are oblivious to the buffered identity as an identity, and therefore to the fact that liberalism imposes what is a particular way of being on unwilling others. This is what lies “behind” policies rather than “in” them, and what conservative claims of cultural oppression endeavor to bring to the forefront.

* Honor and chastity are both atavisms in a modern society, at best regarded “as ideological leftovers in the consciousness of obsolete classes, such as military officers or ethnic grandmothers.”150 Whereas insult to honor was one judged to be a serious social, and possibly legal, offense, someone who now sought to defend his honor will be judged neurotic, abnormally sensitive, or hopelessly provincial.151 These judgments are now the received wisdom. And this is what permits liberals to dismiss “traditional values” as so much empty bluster, the product of emotional conflict and intellectual confliction.

* The problem for the conservative is that he still clings to a world of honor, whether this be through the
Code of the Gentleman, the preternaturally clean-cut look of conservative think tank interns, the patriotism of Sarah Palin rally attendees, or any number of other ways. And this is the ultimate source of liberal animus.

* The man of seriousness is serious because he refuses to recognize the meanings which he projects upon the world as projections. Confounding the objective world with the human meaning with which he has laden it, he disingenuously treats values as what Sartre calls “transcendent givens independent of human subjectivity.”154 The spirit of seriousness is a refusal to recognize one’s hero-system as a hero-system and to see oneself as the origin of that hero-system. The man of seriousness hides his own agency from himself, in order to escape the anguished recognition of his own freedom. Seen from this perspective, what the Gentleman holds out as his steely conviction and unwavering determination is in fact his teleological libertinism, merely his passivity before meanings for which he will not assume responsibility.

The man of seriousness, writes Sartre, “makes himself such that he is waited for by all the tasks placed along the way,” responding to these tasks as “mute demands” and experiencing himself as “the passive obedience to these demands.”155 The imperatives of the Code, however lofty, are just such tasks, mute demands by means of which the Gentleman perseveres in a trance that sacrifices true individuality on the altar of identity.

Conservatives are culturally oppressed because they live under the cloud of such judgments. And they respond in kind, by recasting what liberals uphold as courage and critical intelligence as a set of inherited cultural dispositions that are no less reflexive and unthinking, no less heteronomous, than their own have been judged to be.

* The Bobos understand themselves as enacting internally-imposed codes rather than heteronomously submitting to external ones. Unlike evangelical Christians, they do not accept that sexuality exists to serve God’s transcendent purposes. Nevertheless, Bobo sex “can’t be just a fun thing between the sheets” but must also be “a profound thing between the ears,” must be something “safe, responsible, and socially constructive.” And the result is that the “most animalistic activities are now enshrouded with guidebooks, how-to videos, and magazine articles written by people with advanced degrees.”163 The Bobos aren’t ultimately any more libertarian than evangelical Christians. The difference is that their sexual strictures originate in a more thorough internalization of the buffered identity, which creates its own compulsions. For what was formerly understood as the transcendent purpose of sex has become compressed into sexuality itself, rendering it compulsively purposive.

* Mike Gallagher believes that liberals despise the “power and thrust” of gas-guzzling V-8 engines, and that in urging environmentally-friendly but relatively impotent electric cars upon the public liberals are asking us “to stop hitting the accelerator—on our cars, on our ambitions, on our appetites, on everything.” Here as elsewhere, what may seem like just an empty ad hominem is in fact anything but that. For what is the “power and thrust” celebrated by Gallagher if not a symbol of the unrestrained and un-subdued affective-instinctual structure of the pre-modern self? What is liberals’ break on the accelerator but the muting and subduing of that structure within the buffered identity? This is how conservatism “makes medievalism modern”!—by projecting onto the contemporary scene the basic structure of the conflicts through which the modern emerged out of the medieval.

* Ad hominem reasoning cannot be neatly distinguished from reasoning about the “issues” because the issues express the conceptual entailments generated out of the self-understandings of cultural antagonists. In conflicting against each other, these entailments necessarily grate against the selfconceptions of which they are the theoretical articulations—giving rise to resentment and ad hominem reasoning. That is why the subtext of the arguments marshaled for or against the existence of the relevant rights and obligations is always to charge ideological opponents with a deficit of self-transparency. This is what makes the ad hominems theoretically relevant. They are not directly concerned with ideas, but they offer us windows into structures of the interlocutors’ self-understanding, which are the conceptual and existential backdrop against which the ideas are articulated and understood. Ad hominem rhetoric is not an intellectual distraction, but an attempt to articulate an ontology of the human condition, which is what conservative claims of cultural oppression seek to do.

* That is why egalitarians and communitarians will perceive environmental danger more readily than free-market individualists, because regulating that danger is fully congruous with regulating the “commercial activities that generate inequality and legitimize the unconstrained pursuit of individual self-interest.” The individualists, by contrast, will be slower to perceive environmental danger precisely because “they cherish [the] markets and private orderings” that will be disrupted by their regulation, and will instead worry “that excessive gun control will render individuals unable to defend themselves, a belief congenial to the association of guns with individualist virtues such as self-reliance, courage, and martial prowess.”

* “we naturally view behavior that denigrates our moral norms as endangering public health, undermining civil order, and impeding the accumulation of societal wealth.”

* Most people are not scientific specialists and cannot readily assess the opposing science that is constantly laid before the public. And so their own reliance on science—the decision to trust one expert or study rather than another—is necessarily guided by something other than science, their moral/cultural worldviews.

* Being assuring that the social meanings to which our pseudopods have become attached will be validated by the state, we will achieve the emotional equanimity to become more detached from them, and so recognize their springs in our own psychological needs, awareness of which can only function to further fortify our commitment to expressive moderation.

* Much of the new conservative phrenology is summarized in science writer Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain, which offers an intriguing physiological explanation for why conservatives may be less well-disposed than liberals toward “expressive moderation.” Mooney reports that magnetic resonance imaging reveals that whereas conservatives tend to have a larger right amygdala, the evolutionarily more ancient part of the brain that generates immediate flight or fight responses to threatening stimuli, liberals tend to possess more gray matter in the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC), the evolutionarily newer system that suspends such automatic responses in order to assess facts and detect errors.33 While conservatives tend to be more instinctive and given to immediate reflex actions, liberals are more reflective and cognitive, able to suspend automatic fear responses in order to undertake a more careful evaluation of the facts. The ideology of conservatives, says Mooney, is “reflected in their physiology.” Every human, just like every animal, possesses a “fear system” capable of “rapid-fire defensive reactions.” But that system appears to be stronger, more predominant among conservatives.

* alcohol shifts us to the right politically, as blood alcohol level was correlated with the expression of more conservative views among self-described liberals and conservatives alike.35 The explanation, one researcher suggested, was that “people’s cognitive architecture is more consistent with conservative ideology, because that’s the way brains are built.”36 Conservatism, then, may represent the more “natural” human (and animal) state which has for whatever reasons become comparatively suppressed among liberals—with the disinhibiting effects of alcohol temporarily resetting the latter closer to the default setting in which evolutionarily older rapid-fire reactions overwhelm the ACC…

* This “amygdala theory of conservatism” was also supported by a University of Nebraska study, which discovered that tough-on-crime, strongly pro-military conservatives “have a more pronounced startle reflex, measured by eye-blink strength after hearing a sudden loud noise.” Conservatives also exhibited greater “skin conductance”—a moistening of sweat glands indicating sympathetic nervous system arousal—when shown threatening images like maggots in an open wound or a large spider on someone’s face.37 By contrast, “[i]ndividuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control.”

* A large body of studies across many countries has revealed that “conservatives tend to have a greater need for closure than do liberals.” …Given its “high need for closure,” this personality-type will tend to “seize on a piece of information that dispels doubt or uncertainty, and then freeze, refusing to admit or consider new information.”42 This is why so many conservatives could have believed against all the evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were collaborators, “finding themselves unable to escape the quagmire of unreality even after several years had passed.”43 It is also why
conservatives tend to “select themselves into belief-affirming information streams” like Fox News or rightwing
talk radio,44 through which they shield themselves against the “belief challenges” leveled by what they dismiss as the liberal media.45 Conservatives’ angry defensiveness before inconvenient truths is the predictable consequence of their particular neurological make-up. With their strong amygdalas pressing for immediate reactions and their comparatively weak ACCs incapable of restraining that impulse, conservatives are less able to suspend judgment. But being more tolerant of ambiguity and capable of integrative complexity, the Open personality of liberals is “much more accepting of change and new ideas,” much more prepared to suspend judgment in the absence of evidence or to alter their judgment with the arrival of new evidence.

* Liberal ideologies do not generate large followings because the Left’s psychology of disobedience and anti-authoritarianism ensures that those who make empirically unsupported claims “will be challenged, sometimes quite
vigorously or even viciously.”48 Whereas conservative elites indulge their followers’ motivated cognition, their liberal counterparts can be counted upon to condemn whatever hokum grows out of their own ranks.49 This is rarer among conservatives, whose “pro-authority biases” drive them to be “more unified and supportive of their political ‘team.’” Conservatives are “less willing to pick a fight with their friends, less likely to issue a corrective when they need to issue one, less motivated to step out of rank and call out bogus assertions.”50 By contrast, liberals care little for obedience and group solidarity.51 Being “children of the Enlightenment,” they “don’t bow to authority, or pledge allegiance to a team.”

This Enlightenment heritage is why even the most ideological and emotional of liberals “remain allied with scientists, who just aren’t going to put up with any nonsense in their fields of expertise.” Liberals and scientists are usually on the same side of the issues because liberals’ Open personality, with its curiosity, tolerance, and flexibility naturally disposes them toward the scientific method, compelling a respect for scientists that is less common among conservatives.53 Whereas conservatives routinely dismiss science and expertise, it is “hard, psychologically,” says Mooney “for liberals to buck what scientists say, and to withstand the intellectual beating that is sure to follow if they do.”54 On the other hand, conservatives’ Closed personalities lands them in overwhelming conflict with the conclusions of modern science on a wide range of issues.55 Hence what is a very wide “expertise gap” between liberals and conservatives in the modern world.56
Seeking to close this gap, conservatives now foster their own “counterexpertise to thwart mainstream knowledge.”57 Sustained by think tanks and other institutions, this counterexpertise is charged with maintaining “an alternative reality on the right” through which conservatives are provided with the “evidence” and “arguments” needed to fuel their ideologically motivated cognition.58 Having seceded from the common reality occupied by liberals and independents, conservatives have “their own ‘truth,’ their own experts to spout it, and their own communication channels—newspapers, cable networks, talk radio shows, blogs, encyclopedias, think tanks, even universities—to broad- and narrowcast it.”59 All these operate in the service of the “belief affirmation and ideological activation” that ultimately drives conservatives, legitimating the promptings of their amygdalas as rational responses to bedrock truth.

* Against all the evidence, liberals persist in the naïve faith in the rationality, or potential rationality, of conservatives, believing that the right, properly formulated argument will somehow, someday bring the conservative around. While this hope has been dashed time and again, many liberals continue to retain it. For they have, as children of the Enlightenment, projected what is a culturally specific dispensation—the demand for reasons, arguments, and evidence—onto human nature as such, including the conservatives in whom this faculty has yet to be liberated.

* Embracing the mythic, metaphorical, and emotional aspects of politics, they constructed a language that actively framed particular policy choices in accordance with Strict Father morality, promoting, not only the particular policy prescriptions at issue, but also the frameworks of metaphor into which new issues will be
automatically subsumed.65 Hence slogans like “tax relief,” which in evoking the plight of the beleaguered “model citizen” discourage taxpayers from viewing themselves as nurturers whose tax dollars contribute to the public good.66 Hence too the “war on terror,” which in activating a fear response also activated the broader conservative worldview by alluding to the need for a strong authority figure and protector.67 Conservatives have known how to skillfully deploy a set of ideas, images, and symbols that activate the conservative disposition by increasing the “synaptic strength of the neurons in the circuitry characterizing conservative thought” while inhibiting progressivism by correspondingly weakening the progressive synaptic circuitry. In doing so, they have made it easier and easier for Strict Father morality to become “neurally bound” with specific issues,68 often exploiting traumatic events like 9/11 in whose aftermath the synaptic connections of human beings are more susceptible to reconditioning.

* Our political attitudes emerge out of synaptically encoded moral narratives, which possess a dramatic structure comprised of heroes, villains, victims, helpers, and so forth.

* Amy Wax writes: “Those who think culture matters are partial to a view of human motivation, choice, personality, and moral life that makes “enlightened” intellectuals uneasy. The rich picture of human motivation
embraced by conservative traditionalists like Oakeshott and Burke necessarily resists systematic description. These thinkers challenge a materialist view that sees persons as “rational actors” who are motivated by self-interest and who operate through reasoned calculation. Rather, they observe that people are often moved by values, emotions, ideologies, moral expectations, and group identity, and sometimes take decisions that appear self-defeating, unpredictable, and at odds with rational deliberation.”

* the buffered identity emerges from out of the porous one through the suppression of the wilder instinctual and affective oscillations of the pre-modern identity, with its immediate fear responses to an uncertain, often hostile environment. And conservatives’ greater “skin conductance” and more pronounced “startle reflexes” can be understood as the modern residue of this pre-modern personality structure, a personality structure that, responding to what Elias calls “the incurable unrest, the perpetual proximity of danger, the whole atmosphere of this unpredictable and insecure life,” was very often in the grip of immediate fear responses. The amygdala theory of conservatism therefore reveals the biological substratum, not only of conservative (and liberal) thinking, but also of the historical changes in the overall human make-up chronicled by the mutation counternarrative.

* If liberals are quick to dismiss the charge that they are engaged in an “assault” against conservatives and their values, this can only be because they remain under the spell of the Old Enlightenment, imagining that beliefs are “suspended above us in the ether” and therefore immune from assault. Frank writes that when conservatives complain of their “persecution” by liberals, what they actually mean here is “not imprisonment or
excommunication or disenfranchisement, but criticism,” like editorials expressing disagreement with them.96 But understood naturalistically, this “criticism” can be a rather intrusive thing, an endless pricking away at the selves of conservatives. If Lakoff is to be believed, it consists in nothing less than an attempt to erode the synaptic strength of the neural connections that underpin Strict Father morality. And this surely qualifies as a kind of “assault.”

* Even if happy conservatives are there to be found today, the victory of liberalism would mean the unraveling of the social structures that support conservatives’ synaptic make-ups. And to deactivate the latter is also to deactivate those persons who are constituted from out of them, conservatives. This may not be tantamount to imprisonment or disenfranchisement. But understood naturalistically, it is an attack on the very foundations of the self. And this cannot make for a happy conservative. Liberals may not actively contemplate the misery of conservatives. But their project of synaptic rewiring has that misery as its corollary, as a hopeful sign that the synaptic networks of conservatives are becoming devitalized.

* Ernest Becker observes:
“Anthropologists have long known that when a tribe of people lose the feeling that their way of life is worth-while they may stop reproducing, or in large numbers simply lie down and die beside streams full of fish. Food is not the primary nourishment of man, strange as that may sound to some ethological faddists.
[S]hort of natural catastrophe, the only time life grinds to a halt or explodes in anarchy and chaos, is when a culture falls down on its job of constructing a meaningful hero-system for its members. The depopulation of Melanesia earlier in this century, as well as the loss of interest by the Marquesan Islanders in having children, did not puzzle anthropologists: in the face of inroads from white traders and missionaries upon everything that gave them a sense of value, the islanders simply gave up.”

* Mooney writes:
If we have strong emotional convictions about something, then these convictions must be thought of as an actual physical part of our brains, residing not in any individual brain cell (or neuron) but rather in the complex connections between them, and the pattern of neural activation that has occurred so many times before, and will occur again. The more we activate a particular series of connections, the more powerful it becomes. It grows more and more a part of us, like the ability to play guitar or juggle a soccer ball.100

This neural activation is why conservative claims of cultural oppression are sincere rather than contrived. For what liberals would dismiss as conservatives’ “vague premonitions of erosion or unraveling” of some ethereal social fiber is, translated into non-anthropocentric terms, the gradual unraveling of a neurologically encoded heroic narrative, the erosion of its synaptic strength at the hands of a hostile cultural environment that fails to activate, and may consistently work to de-activate, the synaptic connections that underpin conservatives’ identities and hero-system, which are as much a part of them as are their limbs and organs.

* [Conservatives’] ad hominem temper reflects conservatives’ intuitive appreciation for the physiological embeddedness of political ideologies.

* Every animal, writes Nietzsche, “instinctively strives for an optimum of favorable conditions under which it can expend all its strength and achieve its maximal feeling of power.” And every animal “abhors, just as instinctively and with a subtlety of discernment that is ‘higher than all reason,’ every kind of intrusion or hindrance that obstructs or could obstruct this path to the optimum.”107 This is the underlying symmetry to which conservatives but not liberals are viscerally attuned, the root of the “liberal hypocrisy” that is an ever-present fact for conservatives.

* Given their less “advanced” position along the civilizing process, conservatives are animated by a more visceral appreciation for the continuities between the animal and the human and accordingly process the human world in more animalistic terms. And given their more “advanced” position along that process, liberals are more disposed to deny the animal.

* Liberals conceptualize a worldview as “in the head”—as a set of ideas, opinions, convictions, and so forth. But being more naturalistic and animalistic, conservatives experience what they may call a “worldview” as “the ways we function bodily in the physical and social world.”

* liberals’ “artificial” conception of harm—which discounts psychic and communal harm—functions to conceal real injuries and marginalize some conceptions of the good life.

* What if the [the harm] question refer[s], not to any easily describable courses of action to be potentially traversed by clearly identifiable individuals, but to the more obscure “neurological tracks” that might be traversed within the brains of those individuals? It might then turn out that a liberal social order is abrogating the liberty of conservatives, not because they are prevented from attending church or saluting the flag, but because it inhibits the neurological activity that would render these and other activities fully meaningful. If the liberal elites’ conception of harm is “artificial,” this is because a sufficiently sophisticated understanding of human neurology might ambiguate what liberals imagine is a fairly clear line between mere hurts and genuine harms. What can be verbally dismissed as a mere hurt—including political, social, and cultural hurts—could well constitute a serious impediment to our entire interest network thus understood. Our
articulated assessments of what does and does not meaningfully abrogate the liberty of individuals may very poorly track the conditions of neurological liberty. But these are, for physiologically embodied agents such as we are, as important as anything could be.

* Describing the basic sensibilities of the Enlightenment, Carl Becker’s famous The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers explains:
“They are citizens of the world, the emancipated ones, looking out upon a universe seemingly brand new because so freshly flooded with light, a universe in which everything worth attending to is visible, and everything visible is seen to be unblurred and wonderfully simple after all, and evidently intelligible to the human mind—the mind of Philosophers.125
They were out for the cold facts, out to spoil the game of the mystery-mongers. That species of enthusiasm was indeed to be banned; but only to be replaced by an enthusiasm, however well concealed beneath an outward calm, for the simple truth of things. Knowing beforehand that the truth would make them free, they were on the lookout for a special brand of truth, a truth that would be on their side, a truth they could make use of in their business. Some sure instinct warned them that it would be dangerous to know too much, that “to comprehend all is to pardon all.” They were too recently emancipated from errors to regard error with detachment, too eager to
spread the light to enjoy the indolent luxury of the suspended judgment.”

Today’s liberals are, as in the Eighteenth Century, “out to spoil the game of the mystery-mongers.” But as “children of the Enlightenment” they are warned by “some sure instinct” that “it would be dangerous to know too much.” To take naturalism to its logical conclusion is to acknowledge the layer of human experience that dissolves liberalism’s dichotomy between the “merely symbolic” and our “substantive interests,” or between “cultural grievances” and “tangible issues.” But this liberals refuse to see. To “comprehend all is to pardon all,” and as liberals have no interest in pardoning conservative claims of cultural oppression, neither can they afford to comprehend them. Like the philosophers of the 18th Century, they are “on the lookout for a special brand of truth, a truth that would be on their side.” And this is a truth that would vindicate a hero-system, vindicate the buffered distance, which is why liberals must position conservatives as benighted people who, having become mystified by the “merely symbolic,” cannot distinguish between mere hurts and actual harms. But notwithstanding this special brand of truth, naturalism taken to its logical conclusion reveals that nothing is merely symbolic.

* Westen reports an experiment at the University of Michigan comparing male college students from Northern and Southern states in which an associate of the researcher would “accidentally” bump into the subjects and then walk off into another room without apology, half the time calling out an expletive as well. Northerners displayed virtually no physiological reaction to the incident, but both cortisol and testosterone levels jumped dramatically in the Southern men.127 Was the offense here purely symbolic, or did the experiment reveal it to be substantive? Offense to honor might seem like a mere “hurt,” the artifice of a merely metaphorical Strict Father morality (or the Code of the Gentleman), and so like a highly intangible self-indulgence for whose costs the “victim” bears full responsibility. As the saying goes, sticks and stones may break our bones but words (and one should add, mere unatoned bumps) will never hurt us. But this piece of common sense psychology is less the product of any genuinely hard-nosed empiricism than of liberalism’s need to preemptively dissolves potential conflict—the 18th century philosophers’ concealed enthusiasm for the “simple truth of things,” their conviction that “everything worth attending to is visible” and that everything visible is “unburned and wonderfully simple
after all.” By contrast, the New Enlightenment tells us that much of what is worth attending to is not visible, and this must place what seems like the paranoia and conspiracism of some conservatives in a new light.

* things like gay marriage, flag-burning, licentious Hollywood movies, a multilateralist foreign policy, and the welfare state do not have an obvious psychologically paralyzing effect upon most conservatives, who notwithstanding their cultural oppression still manage to go about their day-to-day lives and make their way in the world. This is why Macedo can assure us that while the ultimate aims of transformative liberalism, the transformation of people, may seem illiberal, its methods are “gentle rather than oppressive, influencing people’s deeply held beliefs without coercion or force.”133 But the distinction between the gentle and the coercive may—just like Feinberg’s distinction between hurts and harms—carry less cash value on the neurological level than in the context of everyday “common sense.” If some people are deeply recalcitrant to liberalism’s transformative project—that is, to the disciplines and repressions of the buffered identity—then we should expect that the kind of gentleness advocated by Macedo will give rise to a certain diffuse, unappeasable resentment that feels itself eminently justified notwithstanding that it has grave difficulties explaining itself. The ultimate source of the aggrievement is not any unambiguous cases of flagrantly illiberal coercion—the fundamentalist interpretation of conservative claims of cultural oppression—but the cumulative neurological impact of liberal
“gentleness,” none of whose precipitants are egregiously illiberal or particularly consequential when considered individually. This diffuse resentment is precisely what animates conservative claims of cultural oppression, which must exaggerate, distort, caricature, and sometimes falsify in order to generate tangible symbolic reference points for grievances which would otherwise lack any linguistic medium whatsoever.

* When Ben Shapiro charges that conservatives are being “bullied” by liberals, this is in the same sense that women are bullied by patriarchy. Feminists who protest patriarchy are not necessarily alleging the existence of any calculated backroom conspiracies to keep women down.

* Liberals’ descriptive claims about what qualifies as a “real” harm disguise what are surreptitiously prescriptive claims in defense of the kind of person for whom the descriptive claims hold true—progressive beings who, possessing more gray matter in the ACC and smaller amygdalas, could never be seriously perturbed by things like the decay of traditional values. If these harms do not qualify as “real,” this is because those who suffer them have been accorded a lower social reality as relics of a barbarian past whose existence cannot be permitted to muddy the clear blue waters of liberalism.

* the issue is not the epistemological subject but what lies underneath it, not dogma but dopamine, the activation of the neural circuitry that sustains us in our hero-systems.

* Stanley Fish remarks that religious traditionalists must seek, not to reach an accommodation with liberalism, but to “rout it from the field.” By contrast, liberals need not be so aggressive. For “the field, as it is presently demarcated, is already theirs.” And so liberals need only be “passive-aggressive.

* Presenting itself as a rejection of anthropocentric hero-systems, the ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity seems to exude a certain passivity, the selfrestraint to not impose any purely subjective meanings upon our common social world. But given that this ethos is a hero-system in its own right, the passivity is concomitantly an act of aggression, part and parcel of an attempt to elevate and impose one particular human make-up. This is what makes liberalism a sublimated, intellectualized, and etherealized hero-system, a hero-system that disguises its status as a hero-system.

* Premodern porousness being human nature’s default setting, it is like a cancer that may be in remission but
can spread again anytime with any loosening of the inhibitions that make liberalism possible. Liberals sense this danger intuitively and experience “vague premonitions or erosion or unraveling” in response, which in turn spurs on liberalism’s inquisitorial tendencies, the imperative to expose and reform whatever human impulses might prove recalcitrant to liberalism’s universalistic consciousness.

* John McWhorter decries the African-American Teacher’s Association of New York for refusing to condemn the anti-intellectualism of disruptive inner-city black students and instead idealizing them as “high-spirited nonconformists” resisting the repression of white middle-class values.178 Not every liberal will go so far as to exalt academic misbehavior as some kind of political statement. But most liberals will insist that whatever criticisms one issues here be sensitive to the historical inequalities that form the broader context of these students’ alienation, which cannot be reduced to bare delinquency and malice.

Facing no realistic alternative to inner city life and the racism that created it, these youths do what they
must to retain their self-respect under the conditions at hand, even if this means behavior that seems
counterproductive. Conservatives may attribute inner city problems to cultural dysfunction. But this dysfunction is itself a product of historical inequalities that live on in the present, which is exactly what moralistic attacks on the pathologies of the “black culture” obscure.

But conservatives can make a similar kind of argument in defense of the conservative culture. For the mutation counter-narrative is the record of the historical inequalities between liberals and conservatives. And if liberals insist that the personal and social malformations of some minority groups be understood in their total context, rather than artificially uprooted from it as self-explanatory problems, then intellectual consistency requires that the “root causes” of conservative claims of cultural oppression be similarly acknowledged. If understanding the travails of African-Americans requires that we look beyond present crime statistics toward the beginnings of African slavery in America, then we can also step back just a bit further in time to examine the rise of the modern from out of the pre-modern and the new hierarchies it spawned. From this perspective, we can see that conservative claimants of cultural oppression are no mere delinquents, but rather “high-spirited nonconformists” in revolt against the disciplines and repressions of the buffered identity. Whatever their irrationalities, these originate in this resistance, in what is a political struggle against the liberal culture.

* Liberals will classify as pure pathology whatever does not conform to their preferred basket of liberal values. But these pathologies can also be understood as just the byproducts of liberal domination, of the ascendancy of a historically constructed understanding of human agency with which liberals are privileged to identify. For it is this that creates the inequalities to which conservative claims of cultural oppression are the response. The liberalism of liberals is circumscribed by the buffered identity, by a hero-system, and this is what prevents the extension of their liberalism to conservatives.

* In just the way that some inner-city black youth feel they cannot be good students because this would be to “act white” and thereby acquiesce in white supremacy, so some conservatives may feel that they cannot celebrate
intellectualism without endorsing the disciplines and repressions of the buffered identity, without endorsing their own cultural oppression. In both case, the obstinacy originates in the group’s subordination before a dominant dispensation.

* while the populist conservative may be mistaken to reject the theory of evolution, he is nevertheless virtuous in his refusal to believe anything which he cannot genuinely understand for himself—unlike the rest of us who repeat the theory that we are descended from monkeys “by rote as if we were descended from parrots.”187 The scientists may be right. But given that only very few of us will ever have the time, patience, and background to grapple with the technical minutiae of evolutionary theory, the deference which the scientists as a matter of fact receive originates in the cultural prestige of the scientific outlook within the liberal culture. To attack that prestige is therefore to resist the liberal culture and its disciplines. And this is what conservative antiintellectualism is designed to do. We are, writes Harris, “better off for having in our midst a large segment of the population who refuses to act intelligently,” people “who won’t listen to what the scientists tell them even when the scientists are right,” because this “irrational resistance to a scientific outlook on life” is the only way to “prevent a world in which no other outlook is conceivable.”188 The liberal, unlike the
populist conservative, “acts intelligently.” And acting is indeed the operative word, because it signifies
conservatives’ intuitive awareness that liberalism has been built atop a historically constructed identity,
a hero-system that is always being acted out in social life.

* Traditional hero-systems are predicated the instantiation of some broader cosmic order. But with the buffered distance having overthrown all traditional teleologies, its heroism must be defined through distance rather than instantiation, through a contrast between those who are aware and those who are not, between who have realized the ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity and those who remain mired in their unreflective folkways. Inasmuch as those folkways disappear in the wake of liberalism’s triumphs, the concrete content of the buffered distance must be suitably reconfigured so that a new set of practices and attitudes may become identified with the unreflective mores of a benighted past.

* Why not instead view laws that implicate smoking, gun ownership, and motorcycle riding as targeting particular classes of individuals and single traits of persons and view laws that implicate homosexuality as targeting behaviors and only derivatively those who undertake them? There are, after all, plenty of gun owners who see gun ownership as integral to their identities, a source of human dignity no less important that the right to have an
abortion or marry a member of the same sex. If the Court would not adopt this perspective, this is because those kinds of identities are not compatible with the buffered distance.

* The Coloradans who wanted the right to fire homosexual employees wanted the right to regulate these social meanings in their workplaces, something that the liberal elites and their “law-school view of what ‘prejudices’ must be stamped out” are already privileged to do.

* Lawrence Lessig argues that some traditional women have opposed abortion because it has become associated with women’s right to full and equal participation in the workplace. When staying at home to raise children was thought to be a woman’s natural role, the decision to do so carried no social costs. But with the “professional model” for women having become established as legitimate, it necessarily challenges the appropriateness of choosing a traditional life. With the latter having become something that needs to be explained and defended, traditional, domestically-inclined women are confronted with a justificatory burden that was formerly non-existent. At best, the professional model creates a new onus because traditional motherhood is no longer considered unambiguously appropriate. At worst, it inflicts a new social stigma to the extent traditional motherhood becomes suspect as a surrender to patriarchy. If some women oppose abortion, this is as a “defensive construction” of social meaning. Their opposition is an attempt to preserve the unquestioned naturalness and inevitability of the traditional role of women as child-bearers against developments that would dissolve that naturalness and create unwanted psychological burdens.
Lessig’s analysis of traditionalist motivations falls in line with the feminist narrative, and also the
broader liberal narrative, according to which women who oppose feminism do so because feminism threatens the psychological safety provided by traditional gender roles.

* Where the Left stands for truth, the Right stands for identity, on whose altar truth and awareness are sacrificed. To be liberal is to be psychologically liberated, open to experience and given to reflection. To be traditional is to be psychologically confined, fearful of the unknown and untried. But seeing symmetry where liberals see asymmetry, conservatives believe that feminism is driven by its own identitarian motivations, its own quest for identity, of which the denigration of traditional women as fearful and disappointed is one feature. Feminism is one more tentacle of the liberal culture, whose false universalism is always the pretext for a continuing assault on conservative identities.

* Liberalized divorce laws, explains Graglia, were an effort “to instill in women distrust of their husbands and reluctance to leave the work force for fear of financial privation in the event of their divorces that ‘reform’ made more likely.”100 In leveling this threat, divorce reform “warned women to adopt the feminist perspective
and replace homemaking with a full-time career.”

* …feminists have waged a largely victorious “war against the housewife,” employing any and all means to denigrate her character, intelligence, and social status.103 Hence Simone de Beauvoir’s and Betty Friedan’s repeated references to the housewife as a “parasite,” which remind Graglia of Hitler’s tirades against the Jews.104 While feminists have attempted to ride “piggyback” on the civil rights movement, their willingness to perpetuate false stereotypes about, and mete out undisguised contempt toward, the traditional housewife proves that feminism is nothing like the struggle for black equality.105 On the contrary, women’s liberation is an Orwellian sleight of hand, because what feminists uphold as liberation could never have succeeded without the establishment of new social stigmas to denigrate dissenters and keep women within the fold of feminism. These stigmas had no counterparts in the civil rights movement, whose demands did not involve a project of social engineering by a small elite. The civil rights movement helped give freedom to those who wanted it. But far from liberating women to do what they were all along inclined to do, feminists have sought to generate the specific social and cultural conditions under which women will be propelled toward feminism.

Central to this effort is feminism’s celebration of casual, meaningless sex. This kind of sex, observes Graglia, is fully compatible with women’s participation in the market. By contrast, “the meaningful sex that overwhelms, that transforms” threatens to make domestic roles more appealing to women.106 Feminists therefore sought to strip sexuality of any higher metaphysical meaning, reducing sexual intercourse to “the physical assuaging of a genital itch.”107 While feminism represented itself as liberating women from antiquated sexual ideologies that subordinate them to patriarchy, it was in fact instituting a new sexual ideology the purpose of which was to subordinate women to feminism itself. And this new ideology has served reconfigure gender relations in a way that socially corroborates the feminist worldview. Women could never have been drawn into the feminist fold were they not first deracinated of their femininity, which is what feminism has always endeavored to promote. By cultivating a dissatisfaction that it would then promise to relieve, feminism turned itself into a self-fulfilling prophesy, concealing all the machinations that have gone into generating the perception of feminism as obviously enlightened and liberating.

“Today, well-educated professional women, who are embarrassed to defend the unsophisticated concepts of virginity and chastity, are less competent to control men’s sexual advances than high school girls were in the 1940s. One result is the invention of concepts like “date rape” and an expansive law of sexual harassment in an attempt to provide the protection for women against seduction they once felt completely confident in securing for themselves with a graceful—and, we sometimes thought, even elegant—refusal.”

Whereas feminism interprets date rape and sexual harassment as lingering remnants of a patriarchy that was once unresisted and unabashed, Graglia sees these as the side-effects of feminist victories, which are now being exploited to secure further such victories. For the helplessness that some women may feel before male sexual imperiousness is the natural consequence of the erosion of traditional values at the hands of feminism. In reducing sex to the “physical assuaging of a genital itch,” feminism deprived women of any basis for refusing sex beyond bare disinclination. Not being grounded in transcendent values as are chastity and virginity, that disinclination cannot but seem arbitrary, something that might be overcome through male persistence. Liberals would ground the refusal of sex in autonomous choice. But autonomous choices can change and be changed by other people. And so feminism must plunge many women into perpetual sexual confusion and ambivalence, further inviting the male persistence for which expansive definitions of rape and sexual harassment are then offered as solutions. If there is a “rape culture,” this is a social construction of feminism itself, the natural consequence of the psychic conflicts that it necessarily inculcates. Having eviscerated the social understandings that would allow women to refuse sex confidently, feminism then represents the ambivalence and confusion that ensues as the subtle, psychologically coercive machinations of omnipresent patriarchal power, thus further galvanizing feminist consciousness and the desire for a far-off utopia in which genuine female agency will for the first time be conceivable. Only then will women finally rest assured that their ostensible desires are truly their own, and feminism holds itself out as the only path to this transformed world and state of being. But this never ending journey has in fact been necessitated by feminism itself, which has deprived many women of any other sources of human meaning. Here as elsewhere, the critical theory of the Right tells us that the dominant dispensation has succeeded in creating the conditions for its own social vindication, conditions under which it can recast its effects as its rational justification.

* feminism that molded women into the ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity, repressing the “lax and disorganized folkways” of traditional femininity, integrating them into the extended chains of social interdependency presupposed by the buffered distance and implicitly acknowledged by the career-minded woman.

* The disenchantment of sexuality by feminism was, just like the disenchantment of the world generally, promoted in order to cultivate a disciplined and productive citizenry. For this is what the career woman exalted by feminism symbolizes, the milquetoast technocratic egalitarianism of the liberal culture, in whose service every last vestige of traditionalist sentiment must be uprooted. If feminism originated in the imperiousness of elite cadres bent on stigmatizing the housewife, this is just part and parcel of the civilizing process, whose norms always spread outward from elite circles through the badgering, bullying, and scolding of the unwashed masses, whose capitulation will then be paraded as liberation. Whereas liberals locate the meaning of feminism in the supersession of certain historic inequalities and the prejudices that sustained them, conservatives locate it in the disciplines and repressions of the buffered identity, for which feminism is a vehicle. And this is why they refuse to accept feminism at face value, why they believe that “women’s equality” describes feminism in “innocently thin terms.”

* article in The New Yorker on the ultraorthodox Hasidic women of Brooklyn in which the writer expressed her astonishment that what she expected would be “self-effacing drudges” worn down by a patriarchal family system turned out to be a “remarkably energetic, mutually supportive community of women, an almost Amazonian society” with strong families and large thriving marriages. These women “sped around like intergalactic missiles” and “seemed…to be as occupied with worthy projects as Eleanor Roosevelt, as hospitable as Welcome Wagoneers.”113 If the writer expected to encounter only self-effacing drudges, this was because her implicit embrace of the subtraction account of modernity compelled her to understand traditionalist institutions as mere confinements rather than sources of meaning, to see the ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity, not as one source of value among others, but as the sine qua non of all value. Feminism defines freedom as the freedom to be a feminist, and so it must dismiss all who refuse that freedom as deficient in the basic human agency powers that only feminism can liberate.

* Students are being sensitized, not to some supra-personal “Moral Order” with its illusory hierarchies, but to the concrete “experiential” realities around them, which serve to anchor progressive values in bona fide human flourishing. Conservative moralism seeks to uphold God, Country, and Family. But the liberal virtues would seem to consist in meta-values whose appeal does not rest on any such parochial allegiances.

* To be “aware” is to be aware of one’s distance from a barbarian past of less fortunate peoples, to be aware of the spiritual and secular as having been compressed into one another, and therefore to endorse policies, attitudes, and preferences which bespeak that compression.

* The censoriousness of the Right is a comparatively primitive technology, a hard stone wall which can in principle be resisted. By contrast, the meta-censoriousness of liberals is a more sophisticated instrument, a pool of quicksand into which one risks sinking deeper and deeper with every act of protest. For liberals’ claims to higher consciousness provokes the very hostility that then seems to validate those claims socially. Political correctness” is thus a self-fulfilling prophesy, a vision that creates its own truth, as conservatives who resent liberalism’s disciplinary impulses are driven further and further into the reactionary positions that would appear to justify those impulses.

* …the liberal judge stands accused of ignoring the original understanding of the Constitution, not simply to satisfy his personal philosophical leanings, but to propagate a parochial cultural vision. “Judicial activism” is undemocratic, not only in substituting the will of a few judges for that of the majority, but also in entrenching the parochial cultural sensibilities of one social class, the liberal elites, at the expense of the voiceless ordinary American. Bork describes the Supreme Court as an institution “whose pronouncements are significantly guided not by the historical meaning of the Constitution but by the values of the class that is dominant in the culture.”1 Having become colonized by what Bork calls the “parochial morality of an arrogant intellectual class,”2 the courts surreptitiously elevate what is a specific cultural ethos into a hegemonic narrative about the meaning of American ideals, all under the guise of thoughtfulness, enlightenment, progress, and so forth. Much as Lochner era jurisprudence was driven by the economic interests of the then-dominant capitalist class, so contemporary liberal jurisprudence is driven by the cultural interests of the now-dominant verbal class, the anointed or liberal elites.

* The secular cannot represent neutrality as between theism and atheism for the pre-modern consciousness because the secular assumes a theistic or atheistic meaning according to whether its relation to the religious or eternal is recognized, and the secularization of the Christmas season undermines just this recognition. As Taylor puts it, tracts of secular time were for premoderns “coloured by their placing in relation to higher times,”82 which “gathered, assembled, reordered, punctuated profane, ordinary time.”83 And this gathering and assembling is precisely what liberal neutrality preempts, because approaching the secular as a self-contained realm is of the very essence of irreligion within the pre-modern understanding of the relationship between the religious and the secular.

* What liberals see as the conservative contradiction of dismissing the secular as an alien orthodoxy while engaging in secular activities without inhibition is in the eye of the liberal beholder, because what seems like inconsistent conduct is in fact the consistent application of a pre-modern understanding of the relationship between the religious and the secular.

* Liberalism offers neutrality between the religious and the secular within the modern understanding of the relationship between the religious and the secular. But the only neutrality that might satisfy the claimants is neutrality between the modern and pre-modern understandings of this relationship. And this liberalism always withholds.

* Religion is the fulcrum of human self-consciousness because it provides people with the “permission” to develop a level of interiority that does not exist naturally. God is, in a sense, the mirror image of our own consciousness. God does not just allow us to explain what we could not otherwise explain; he also allows us to be what we could not otherwise be. Religion is not just a set of beliefs about the universe, but a form of training for what we have come to recognize as the distinctively human. Hence Hegel’s claim that understood philosophically God is simply the “Idea of freedom.”106 God is the idea of freedom because it is the idea of God as it progressively unfolded through Western history that permitted the development of the modern liberal identity and its disengaged innerness. We can only understand the mind by understanding the process of its
development. But the development of the mind is concomitantly the development of religion, which
symbolically articulates an initially unconscious yearning to transcend our merely animal immersion in
nature, cultivating this aspiration by cultivating the idea of God as an absolute transcendence.

* Puritanism is the forbearer of modern secularism. For it was the work of Religious Reform that first
cultivated the kind of consciousness that made secularism possible, the buffered identity no longer beholden to an enchanted world of spirit forces—which Justice Brennan was fearing could be undermined the nativity scene and its mystical promptings. The immanent frame first developed as a religious aspiration, a way of paying homage to the true God. And what liberals uphold as religion neutrality exacts an analogous form of homage when it promotes a cosmological orientation that first developed through Religious Reform.

* Judaism portrays itself as the overcoming of Near Eastern paganism by God’s chosen nation; Christianity is the overcoming of Jewish ritualism and narcissism, bringing salvation to all nations; Protestantism is the overcoming of the “whore of Babylon,” which perpetuated pagan tendencies within the community of the faithful; Islam is the overcoming of infidelity to the only God and his prophet. We are not “religion,” says each of the biblical faiths: we are truth.

* Just as the transcendence of a God of Israel was too qualified for Christianity, because too invested in Israel, so the transcendence of the God of the Catholic Church was too qualified for Protestantism, because too
invested in that very Church. Judaism and Catholicism are deficient from the Protestant perspective because they have in the process of freeing themselves from the investments of pagans, articulated this freedom through hierarchies, laws, rituals, ethnic identifications etc., in which they subsequently became reinvested, thereby slipping back into the very blindness from which true monotheism was intended to liberate us.

* It is a feature of the whole modern period… that social elites become detached from, even hostile to, much of popular culture, and attempt to make it over. One of the things they have frequently imposed is disenchantment, the suppression of “magic” and unofficial religion….
Elites can often have tremendous power to impose these changes; their very secession from the popular forms can destabilize them. It is in the very nature of religion in an enchanted world, as I have just mentioned, that it defines the practice not simply or even primarily of individuals, but of whole societies.
A religion of this kind is uniquely vulnerable to the defection of elites, since they are often in a position severely to restrict, if not to put an end altogether to the central collective rituals. If the king himself will no longer play his role, what can one do? Or if relics and statues of saints are burned, how go on drawing their power?
Reform from on top can thus put a brutal end to a great deal of popular religion, without necessarily putting anything in its place for many of the people concerned. And this was not only an end de facto, it could also be seen as a kind of refutation. For those who believed in the influences and forces residing in certain places and things, the very fact that they could be destroyed without terrible retribution seemed to indicate that their power had fled. In this way, the reformers carried on a practice which had already been used time and again to spread the faith. When St. Boniface felled the sacred oak groves of the pagan Germans, just this demonstration of effect was what was intended. And the missionaries who followed the Conquistadores in Mexico hastened to destroy the temples and cultures of the natives, with the same intention, and similar results.

* The opposition between religious conservatives and secular liberals is a reprise of what was originally an opposition between pre-modern and modern religion, between the more enfleshed religious orientation of non-elites and the more excarnated one of religious reformers. And this can in turn be seen as recapitulating an as yet older opposition between paganism and monotheistic hostility to idolatry. Seen in this light, religious conservatives have thus been thrust in the role of conquered pagan tribes being compelled to relinquish their charged objects (and events) to supervising missionaries—i.e., the secular liberals of the ACLU.

* It is very important for students of man to be clear about this: culture itself is sacred, since it is the
“religion” that assures in some way the perpetuation of its members. For a long time students of society liked to think in terms of “sacred” versus “profane” aspects of social life. But there has been continued dissatisfaction with this kind of simple dichotomy, and the reason is that there is really no basic distinction between sacred and profane in the symbolic affairs of men. As soon as you have symbols you have artificial self-transcendence via culture. Everything cultural is fabricated and given meaning by the mind, a meaning that was not given by physical nature. Culture is in this sense “supernatural,” and all systematizations of culture have in the end the same goal: to raise men above nature, to assure them that in some ways their lives count in the universe more than merely physical things count.

* Religion protects the believer from the tremendum through doctrine and ritual. These devices work to create what James Breech has termed a “holding mode” of consciousness that functions by allowing the believer to anchor herself to what she sees as a stable and comprehensible God. By substituting doctrine and ritual for a naked encounter with the tremendum she is able to construct a sense of order and security that effectively hides the tremendum. The religious belief system, in essence, provides a psychological defense against overwhelming feelings of insignificance and chaos…

* To uphold the constitutionality of the Satmars’ school district could then have been viewed, not as a case of religious favoritism, but, on the contrary, as a secular-minded and scientifically-motivated indifference to what religious believers see as distinctive about their religion. For that religion will have been approached naturalistically, in wholly secular terms, as an evolutionarily adaptive system of meaning-production and behavior-coordination toward whose ultimate metaphysical status the state must remain agnostic and indifferent.

* Students with strong religious upbringings may appear “cloistered,” as Gey says. But a fully naturalistic understanding of human agency reveals that we are all cloistered by synaptically encrypted identities and the social physiologies from which they are derived. Gey speaks of the “intellectual muscles” instilled by a secular education and stunted by a religious one, but a fully neurologized political science reveals that the intellectual muscles of believers and nonbelievers alike operate according to a logic that is less flexible and open-ended than is suggested by grand talk of a “spirit of independence”—which bespeaks an outdated “Old Enlightenment” view of human nature. Whether religious or secular, we are all “neurally bound” to our worldviews, as Lakoff says—or all “cemented” as Justice Stevens says. Once again, liberalism refuses to take its naturalism to its logical conclusion, to where it might reveal the symmetries that conservatives sense intuitively.

* “Many Americans may have a bad conscience about their rejection of the traditional views of Judaism and Christianity. They know deep down that something vital and true springs from those roots, and still moves them. On the other hand, they have ‘modernized’ in certain parts of their mind, and they do not know how to put this modernization together with their traditional longings. They hate those who exacerbate this tension in their own souls.
You will note, for instance, the difference between American and European atheists. The Americans who reject religion do so with a kind of emotional violence, and the same time are quick to boast about their own moral superiority…By contrast, the European atheist is much more selfassured, and often manifests the sly smile of the complete cynic and nihilist, who happily believes in nothing at all.”

* Just as homophobia may be driven by an inner conflict with one’s own homosexual inclinations, which are disingenuously externalized and then opposed as an alien force, so the anti-religious hostility of liberals arises out of the buffered self’s need to deny its own underlying porousness—which anti-religious hostility allows it to project onto conservatives.

* “Success has bred complacency. The success is real: contemporary liberal democracies have managed to accommodate religion without setting off sectarian violence or encouraging theocracy, which is a historic achievement. But accommodation is not understanding. Though Britain and the United States can pride themselves on having cultivated the ideas of toleration, freedom of conscience, and a formal separation of church and state, their success has depended on a wholly unique experience with Protestant sectarianism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Anglo-American liberal tradition lacks a vocabulary for describing the full psychological complexity of its own religious life, let alone for understanding the relation between faith and politics in other parts of the world.”

* If the counterculture of the Left called for sexual liberation, so the counterculture of the Right now calls for teleological liberation, for the right to relate to the world in a pre-modern fashion without legal penalty or social stigma. For those standing outside the disciplines and repressions of the buffered identity, secular liberalism is necessarily experienced as a narrow-minded Puritanism that maliciously targets our natural impulses toward teleological thought and feeling.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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