May 22, 2008

Egalitarian, Totalitarian, Socratic?

The flurry of talk prompted by my entry into the discussion of race, etc. has confirmed the wisdom of my reticence in the first place.  The fact that I jumped in anyway is likely good cause to dismiss my claims to prudence and wisdom below, but those chips will fall where they may.

I am trying to decide whether it is worthwhile to post a longer defense of my arguments and some answers to critics, but in the mean time, there is one interesting dynamic that ought to be pointed out.  Much of the knee-jerk reaction to my ?noble fiction? argument, from bloggers and commenters both, has been to assume that I must be in the grips of egalitarian ideology and politically correct dogma.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as anyone familiar with my past writing can attest. 

In fact, Paul Gottfried was closer to the truth when he accused me, early on, of totalitarianism (a charge I likewise deny).  Those who charge me with egalitarianism just aren?t paying close attention to my actual argument, which is staunchly elitist and assumes?without needing to shout about it?that all men are not equally adept at ruling.  I have argued, in essence, that what is needed is an honest conversation driven by a humble elite who understand civilization, society, mores, and the human heart.  This honesty includes acknowledging the noble fictions where necessary.  The necessary noble fiction is always a balancing act, a resolution of social tension through the moral character and spiritual strength of a ruling elite capable of bearing that tension without breaking.

My respondents who claim that I am trying to ?censor? science are ignorant to my argument and in fact are the ones in the grips of a latent egalitarianism which says that all men are equally entitled to all knowledge in the marketplace of ideas. 

My point about the ghetto and minority crime, etc., is that of course it?s bad—just like any of the many current and past examples of societies composed of incestuous and violent little tribes.  My ancestors came from Scottish clans up to the 18thC who were into extreme violence, grudge killings, incest, rape and probably worse things. In Appalachia, one can find that ethos still.  Any functioning good and noble elite will always have to ?look down? on people in this category as an underclass that is not fully ?equal??but this presents obvious problems and tensions of its own which can be negotiated by official moralities which create healthy motivations and don?t poison human relationships.  That is what being a ruling elite is all about, and that is what I see painfully lacking from those who pretend to that role here in this discussion.

In the context of a ruling elite which has lost its spiritual substance and has believed the fiction or ceased to believe that it functions as a social tension reliever, failure is achieved by abdication and a loss of nerve.  These days egalitarianism also goes along with not just the denial of difference but a hatred of such concepts as ?norms,? ?standards,? and ?ruling class,? most of all by members of the ruling classes.

The following from Voegelin?s commentary on The Republic is very relevant:

Cephalus represents the ?older generation? in a time of crisis, the men who still impress by their character and conduct that has been formed in a better age. The force of tradition and habit keeps them on the narrow path, but they are not righteous by ?love of wisdom,? and in a crisis they have nothing to offer to the younger generation which is already exposed to more corruptive influences. The venerable elder who arouses our sympathy will not lose it on closer inspection, but the sympathy will be tempered by a touch of condescension, if not contempt, for his weakness. For the men of his type are the cause of the sudden vacuum that appears in a critical period with the break of generations. All of a sudden it appears that the older generation has neglected to build the substance of order in the younger men, and an amiable lukewarmness and confusion shifts within a few years into the horrors of social catastrophe. In the next generation, with Polemarchus, the understanding of justice is already reduced to a businessman?s honesty. And it comes almost as a relief when in the sophist Thrasymachus there appears a real man who pleads the cause of injustice with luciferic passion. He at least is articulate, he argues and one can argue with him, and Socrates can come to grips with a problem that remains evasive when represented by a respectability and venerable tradition without substance.

So I am caught between two generations, the elder egalitarians on the one hand and the sophist Roaches who plead the cause of injustice with luciferic passion on the other.  But I give Roach the same credit Voegelin gives Thrasymachus?at least one can argue with him in hopes of clarifying and coming to grips with a very evasive problem. 


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