Wednesday, July 26, 2017

On Being Reactionary

The English academic Bruce Charlton is always interesting. I read his book Thought Prison (on political correctness) some years ago, and occasionally look at his blog. He was an Orthodox Christian when he wrote that book, but now he has embraced Mormon metaphysics (I'm not too sure what that means). In his latest blog post, he writes:

I equate modernity (that is secular Leftism in all its forms - including all mainstream and non-religious parties) with arrested adolescence - which is the worst thing.

I equate religious reaction with our spiritual childhood.

Now - if forced to choose between perpetual adolescence and childhood, I would certainly choose childhood. But that is not what is on offer from religious reaction, starting (as we are) from here-and-from-now: what is offered is a partial and self-conscious return to the closest-possible simulacrum of childhood - therefore not childhood itself.

This is still somewhat better than full-blown Leftist modernity, but it is not stable - and it is sad, because it knows itself to be based on a kind of self-deception, a self-blinding.

I see his point, but I disagree with it. I think religious reaction (and reaction in general) is very likely to be stable, because it generally draws on tried and tested forms, forms that have lasted generations or even centuries. I realize I'm talking about the phenomenon itself, and Charlton is talking about the spiritual and psychological state of the reactionary, but I don't think that invalidates the point.

I think worrying too much about self-deception can drive us crazy, and there seems no way of escaping the labyrinth. When do you know you are no longer deceiving yourself? Isn't there an element of role-playing to all human behaviour?

There is something very cheerful, humble and gleeful about reaction. Reaction respects the pre-existing fault-lines of debate and conflict. How likely is that the everybody was wrong about those fault-lines? Reaction is (I would argue) even respectful towards one's opponents. It's accepting their dance-steps, even in conflict.

Recently, I was re-reading Jiving at the Crossroads by John Waters, an Irish liberal-turned-conservative. The book was written while he was in transition from one to the other. Amongst other things, this book reflects on the Presidential campaign of Mary Robinson, Ireland's first female President (mostly a ceremonial role), who was elected in 1990. Waters argues in the book that Robinson had transcended the liberal-conservative, traditional-modernist, rural-urban divide. All these years later, Robinson's Presidency is seen as a great watershed of Irish liberalisation and globalisation. Waters was overthinking the matter. Things usually are as simple as they look.

I think the same thing when I remember the beginning of Pope Francis's pontificate, when so many Catholics (me included) were so eager to convince themselves, and others, that the new Pope was not a liberal and that he was seeking to transcend the whole liberal-conservative division. Well, we were wrong. We were over-thinking it. Mea culpa. It really was as simple as it looked.

Another example is the new female Dr. Who. I don't care about Dr. Who. I think it's a stupid, boring, intellectually lightweight show. I get that the Doctor is an alien. But the only reason they're having a female Doctor is to push a PC agenda. So indignation is entirely appropriate (if you care enough to be interested).

I think we are better off sticking to reaction.

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