Archive for February, 2006

Staying Put

Reflections on staying in or near the place where you grew up, occasioned by the topic’s appearance in the Crunchy Con blog at National Review Online. I know many of you are highly allergic to NR, but there is a great discussion going on there. There’s too much of it for me to keep up with, but many of the ideas that were propounded in CetT are appearing, and getting a real workout.

Maclin Horton

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This guest post is from "Robin" who posted a comment on my last Sunday Night Journal entry in which she said she
disagreed with Franklin Salazar about the origins of the feminist
movement but didn’t have a reply formulated (Franklin attributes it mainly to the weakness of men). We corresponded a bit and she sent me the following remarks, which I thought were very much on target and particularly striking in the way they connect the question with that long-term concern of Caelum et Terra, the exaggerated separation from nature–or should I say reality–in the way we live now. So I asked for her permission to post them.

Maclin Horton

My disagreement with Mr. Salazar was primarily that I don’t think "unprotective" men caused the feminist movement.  I think women instigated it and men became "wussy" afterward.  I really think the causes that led to The Vagina Monologues are very complex, including movement away from agrarian society, outside employment that did not require physical strength, outside employment that made children a competitive disadvantage, and, of course, "reproductive technology," which made preventing or destroying children possible.  Other causes, I think, were Freudian and pseudo-scientific disparagement of mothers and their wisdom and their unique womanly talents. ("Don’t breastfeed your baby – that’s dirty!  Only immigrants do that!  Feed your baby our homogenized formula, with vitamins added!")

As women became more alienated from their nature, they naturally began to want male economic and political rights – what else was there for them to do?  But at some point – I’d say around the 1950’s – male reaction set in (including the wimpiness that Mr. Salazar describes, but also irresponsibility, sexual and otherwise), and women as a group really began to fall into the sin of Eve (envy) and Lucifer (non serviam). We crossed a line when our society accepted artificial birth control, but we crossed a much more significant line when we accepted abortion. Once "we" had accepted the latter, our decline into sin has accelerated dramatically.

You can see two strains of feminism from around 1960 to 2000:  one emphasizes women’s mental and professional equality with men and decries the use of women as "sex objects"; the other emphasizes women’s sexual equality with men – in other words, we can be just as lusty, promiscuous, and "free" as a man. Whereas the first strain would have been appalled at women dressing like prostitutes and displaying their bodies in public, the second strain embraced such. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the first strain was predominant. But beginning in the 1980’s (after Roe v. Wade) and continuing, the second strain has predominated, and by now has just about obliterated the first.

Hence The Vagina Monologues. We are no longer "women" through and through – with every cell of our being – and with our own unique "charisms," as Pope John Paul II would say. The only thing that distinguishes us from men are our sex organs. 

In the past 200 years, most women have lost their "femaleness," their children, their entire "purpose in life." What’s more, reproductive technology has caused them to descend into grave sin. Given this background, a play that celebrates the only "female" thing we have left was inevitable, and it also should be no surprise that it’s hugely successful.

Robin Shea lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is a lawyer and mother of two grown sons.

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The often-fascinating discussion of the "crunchy con" idea continues over at National Review. It’s getting to be more than I have time to follow. One post which I thought made an important point is this one from Caleb Stegall of The New Pantagruel–he’s answering the question "Where did the right go wrong?" Former readers of Caelum et Terra will hear a lot of familiar themes–a lot of this was hashed over in the magazine.

I think I’ll take this occasion to explain my relationship to conservatism. An awful lot of the crunchy-con talk–and I think, though I haven’t read it yet, this is somewhat true of the book itself–is an intramural debate among conservatives, meaning conservatives who think of themselves as being consciously part of that movement. (I think most of them make their livings as pundit/journalists of the right.)

Well, I’m not really part of that, and I wander away when the conversation dwells for very long on what conservatism is, isn’t, should be, shouldn’t be. I’m really not what would be called a "movement conservative." I’m not active in politics or in any social movement, and in my own reading and writing I much prefer to focus on faith, literature, and music. I do find myself thinking about politics a lot, because it dominates our lives so much, and because the cultural struggle between the remnants of the Christian tradition and its enemies is very much tangled up with politics. But I’m really not, and never have been, a political animal.

I do call myself a conservative because that seems to be a reasonably accurate way of locating myself in the contemporary social and political environment. I resisted applying the term to myself for a long time, but finally accepted that it’s more or less accurate. But it’s a contingent and dispensable nomenclature. What I am, above everything else, is a Catholic. Not even a conservative or liberal Catholic, when you get right down to it, although of course it’s almost impossible to avoid using that terminology sometimes.

Conservatism for me is an attachment to the Western tradition and a very strong suspicion of anyone who has a Big Plan For Fixing Everything. I firmly hold to the sometimes-quoted conservative principle that human nature has no history–that the mostly legendary "modern man" is not fundamentally different from those wilful Hebrews quarreling with God in the desert three thousand years ago. Our psychology is delineated with perfect accuracy in the Psalms and Proverbs written by those same Hebrews, and our cosmic situation in their story of Job. I think anyone who has an accurate grasp of what mankind actually is must necessarily have relatively low expectations of how much we can be improved. So I’m always ready to set myself in opposition to social innovations that are based on the assumption that human nature is pretty much ours to mold as we will.The testimony of tradition on a question such as that of private property carries a lot of weight for me.

And I’m lower-case democratic. Of all broad categories of people, I suppose I most dislike those who hold themselves intrinsically superior to the rest of our race. In another age this might have made me a lower-case republican agitating against the aristocracy. But in our time this overbearing superiority is most broadly visible among intellectuals and those who identify with them: the educated and yet ignorant elite who confuse their own glibness and cleverness with wisdom, and their affluence and taste with merit, combining the worst aspects of both the wealthy aristocrat and the deracinated radical. I don’t much care for rich conservatives, but I detest limousine liberals.

My conservatism also includes a patriotism which is love of a specific place and people. I cherish my roots in a family that has been known to stand for truth and justice, and a society which was still partly agricultural. I love the USA, especially what the left-wing music critic Greil Marcus memorably called "the old weird America," and I haven’t given up hope on the new crazy America. Love of these things makes me want to reform them, not sweep them away in favor of some revolutionary vision, much less turn them into a damnable Brave New World.

You might say that conservatism for me is Regular Folks and Russell Kirk.I try not to sentimentalize the former–after all, I grew up in the segregationist South–and I don’t confuse the works of the latter with Scripture. But Kirkean conservatives are often referred to as "virtue conservatives" as opposed to the more libertarian "freedom conservatives," and I’m one of those who finds the concept of freedom of little meaning until it’s qualified in some way: freedom for what? freedom from what? In that sense I was a conservative even in my youth when I thought I was on the left: I was always baffled by the unspecified demand for "freedom," especially as you had to be a fool not to see that we already had more freedom than most people who have ever lived (and also literally more than we knew what to do with).

And what is virtue, and how do we attain it? Well, I learn that from common sense, which is just  intuitive knowledge of the natural law, and from what the Church teaches me–which brings me around again to the point that it’s the teachings of the Church which are at the center of what I think about every political and social question, and not conservatism, which has its uses but is not religion.

I might add that I like open spaces and green growing things and think we already have more than enough malls and concrete. Whether that is a conservative or liberal view I’ll leave for others to debate.

Maclin Horton

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Crunchy Con book & blog

UPDATE 3/10/06 15:15: Since this post is receding pretty far into the past and there is a newer on the same subject, I’m closing comments here–please comment on this post if you want to continue the discussion.


I don’t know if I’m going to be able to start any comment on this without first pointing out that I consider "crunchy" a rather unfortunate term. But, setting that aside, Rod Dreher’s book Crunchy Cons, which is about conservatives concerned with many of the same things that Caelum et Terra was/is, was released yesterday. As I’ve mentioned before, I was interviewed for it, so to some extent at least the CetT point of view is represented. National Review has a blog specifically devoted to the book and the topic. Some pretty interesting commentary there already. I think the most crucial point, and one which I venture to say everyone who ever liked CetT would agree with, is made by David Mills (actually on the Touchstone blog but quoted on NR):

"[The Christian] doesn’t begin with a primary allegiance to ‘freedom’—an infinitely
elastic idea—rather than virtue as a social good. He begins with
virtue and all it represents and makes his economic decisions by its
principles and on most matters, on which traditionalist principle does
not direct one to any particular policy, prudentially."

No further remarks from me on the topic right now, as I was really hoping to finish reading that article on Christopher Dawson today (link in post below). And besides, I haven’t read the book yet.

Maclin Horton

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Something Broken

Wondering why such a thing as The Vagina Monologues came to be written.

Maclin Horton

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My friend Dawn Eden confesses to having written this headline. Having recovered from it, I kept thinking the picture of Dick Cheney reminded me of something or someone, and finally it came to me that there’s something bird-like about his eyes, or his facial expression. As the lady in the story said of Hercule Poirot, you can always tell them by the eyes. Take another look at that front page, then compare it with this.

Ok, now take a look at the choking image from Ten Ways Dick Cheney Can Kill You. And compare it with this neo-con hawk.

So I guess now we can see where Dick Cheney’s loyalties really lie, hmm? And that the so-called "hunting accident" last weekend was really a message to hunters: back off, clowns–the birds are taking this to a whole new level.

Maclin Horton

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Chris Ryland sends a link to Christopher Dawson on Technology and the Demise of Liberalism by Russell Hittinger. I haven’t had time to read the piece yet but Daniel has, and asked me to go ahead and post a link. Certainly looks interesting.

Maclin Horton

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