July 17, 2010


Don't Be Stupid: Despite America's class conflict, faith and reason still go together. (Joe Knippenberg, October 19, 2008, Cuture 11)

In politics, so the argument goes, what matters are modesty and a commonsensical attention to real life experience, not an often arrogant (and perhaps smug) belief in one’s intellectual capacity to remake the world to bring it in line with some highfalutin theory.

Republicans have their smart and sophisticated guys, some even capable of serving on the Harvard faculty (if only they could be hired). But they tend not to parade them in front of the voters, advertising their intelligence. There are at least two reasons for this, one of which I’ve already mentioned (and to which I’ll return momentarily). The other is that the Republicans most widely known for their braininess are the so-called neo-conservatives, who are (rightly or wrongly) identified with the Bush Administration’s missteps in Iraq and hence not in good odor either in the G.O.P. or in the public at large.

But for me the more interesting reason is the one to which the late William F. Buckley, Jr. alluded. To the degree that intelligence is connected with proud self-assertion, a hubristic belief in one’s own capacity to understand and remake the world, it tends not to be conservative or respectful of the lessons and burdens of the past. It looks forward to the change it can effect as it rationalizes and humanizes the world. It does not bow before anyone, least of all a creator God.

Nonetheless, there are some smart and learned people who don’t take this view.

While he objects to the term "stupid," Mr. Knippenberg points to the reason that it is correct to consider conservatism the Stupid Party. If Intellectualism can be said, as seems fair, to be the hubristic belief in remaking the world according to one's own rationalizations, then conservatism is profoundly anti-intellectual.

Conservatism, which accepts Creation as a gift from God and men as beholden to the lessons of the past, can even be said to be "stupid." This is particularly clear in the sphere of morality, where conservatism proceeds from the idea that, as Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn puts it in Leftism, Man is:

A person with an intransferable destiny, unique created in the image of God, responsible to God, endowed with an immortal soul.

or, as Jacques Maritain put it in The Person and the Common Good:
The human person is ordained directly to God as to its absolute ultimate end.

Every variation of Intellectualism, or Leftism as Mr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn would have had it, is just a form of rebellion against this "stupid" recognition that we are Created by and responsible to God, rather than self-created and responsible only to the self. This latter bit of foolishness reaches its apotheosis in Richard Dawkin's delusion of existence being the product of "selfish genes," Mr. Dawkins being, not coincidentally, one of the popularizers of the term "Brights" to describe an individual who considers himself to be an end in himself.

The capacity of this simple bifurcation -- between the Stupid, who recognize obligations and responsibilities outside of the self, and Brights, who are completely inner-directed and self-obsessed -- to explain pretty much all of modern politics, philosophy, science, culture, etc., suggests that we conservatives ought not be bothered by the brand.

Sharansky's mistaken identity: a review of Defending Identity by Natan Sharansky (Spengler, 10/21/08, Asia Times)

A worthwhile thought was gestating in Sharansky's mind, but was stillborn in the present volume. Sharansky wants to say that the particularism of Jewish national identity offers universal benefits for humankind. But he does not want to say so in religious terms, and cannot find a clear way to say so in secular terms.

Jews often are loath to make theological claims for their own importance, which sound megalomaniac to secular ears. But the Jews might as well resign themselves to being hanged for a sheep as well as a lamb. Except for its religious implications, the world has little use for Jewish nationhood, and considers the presence of a few million Jews in the Middle East an inconvenience at best, and a danger at worst. That is why the only true friends of the Jewish state are American and some other evangelicals, and a few leaders of the Catholic Church.

Franz Rosenzweig, the great German-Jewish theologian, asserted that the history of Israel was the history of the world. Expansive as this claim may appear, it is well grounded in Rosenzweig's sociology of religion. What Rosenzweig meant is that Israel's existence forever transformed human identity. From Israel, Western Asia and Europe first heard the promise of eternal life, and afterwards looked at themselves differently. The pagans of the ancient world knew their days on Earth were numbered, and that their time would come to die out and be forgotten. But the promise of eternal life that the nations heard from the Jews undermined their ancient fatalism.

Reasonably, or not, we want to live forever. The first people to believe that God promised that it would endure forever became the standard against which all nations must measure their condition. From Ireland to Afghanistan, the identities of all tribes and nations became a response to Israel: Christianity offers a New Israel, Islam a competitor to Israel, neo-paganism a Satanic parody of Israel. The trouble is that Jewish national identity is not one national identity among many national identities. There is only Jewish identity, and a set of responses to Jewish identity. Jewish national identity has a radically different character than all other national identities, for the Jews uniquely believe that their nation was summoned into being to serve the sole creator God of the Universe. [...]

Sharansky wants to fall back on old-fashioned national identity, yet in Europe, national identities were not a sui generis expression of ancient culture and ethnicity. On the contrary, as Rosenzweig reports, Christianity turned European national identity into a parody of Israel's Election. Europe was only half-Christianized. Christianity - at least in its Western, Catholic or Protestant manifestation - demands that the individual repudiate the sinful flesh of his Gentile origin, and by water and the Spirit be reborn into a new people, that is, the People of Israel. From the (Western) Christian perspective, God's promise to Abraham remains valid: it is simply that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross makes possible the miraculous rebirth of each individual Christian into Israel.

The trouble with European nationalism is that the Europeans did not want to be saved by repudiating their Gentile flesh and joining Israel of the Spirit, namely the Church. On the contrary, they wanted to be Elected, that is, accorded eternal life, but in their own French, German, Italian or Ukrainian skins. That is the not-so-secret source of anti-Semitism. All European nationalism is hostile to Israel, for the existence of Israel stands as a reproach to the pathetic pretensions of each European nation to immortality. In its most extreme form, namely Hitler's, the obsession takes hold of the existentially challenged nation that in order for it to be the Chosen People, the original Chosen People must be exterminated.

European national identity is dead and gone for tragic reasons, which is to say very good ones, and the thin broth of European cosmopolitanism that bubbles in its place is not a substitute so much as tasteless residue. When the dogs no longer want to live forever, they don't trouble to have puppies, and in a few generations the problem resolves itself through depopulation and ruin.

It was the genius of John Paul II, the last great hero of Christian Europe, the pope who brought down communism, to understand that the true Europe needed Israel. Not the Europe of the peoples, but the Europe of the universal Church, required the living presence of Israel as the exemplar of a People of God, and John Paul II declared God's Covenant with the Jewish people to be eternally valid, and instituted diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

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[originally posted: 10/20/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 17, 2010 5:35 AM
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