February 09, 2009

The Essence of Gottfriedism

Over at ISI’s web-journal, First Principles, Thomas F. Bertonneau offers an insightful, and very well written, appreciation of our own Paul Gottfried: 

With respect to Paul Edward Gottfried (born 1941) the ascriptions fly. They rise up in a burgeoning m?l?e of praise and contumely. Conider the latter. An irate reviewer of After Liberalism (1999), who ended by saying that she wanted her money back, accused Gottfried of retailing, not in argument, but in ?dispepsia,? so spelled. Citing the hapless gaffe implies not that anyone who disagrees with Gottfried?s surgical analyses of modern ideological affliction is illiterate. The citation signifies rather that, for advocates of the therapeutic-managerial regime whose roots he has traced in book after book, and whose character he has systematically described, the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania can constitute a throbbing great headache?perhaps provoking as well a spasm of actual dyspepsia. Gottfried?s books come without bismuth, but for the intellectually hungry and hardy they offer meat for the mind, strong in flavor. The Gottfried oeuvre contains surprises.

While Gottfried adheres as tenaciously as any contemporary conservative thinker to right principles, yet he disdains to renounce certain designated bogeymen that other conservatives tend, perhaps defensively, to anathematize. Friedrich Nietzsche looms large in that bogeyman-gallery. G. W. F. Hegel looms almost as large. To both, Gottfried maintains his openness. In conversation, he acknowledges that even demonic inspirers of the modern crisis like Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, in the indictment of whom an abundant history stands witness, have at least something, if only indirectly, to teach to their reflexive detractors, who should perhaps spend more time reading and less time execrating them. Assessing the relative wickedness of candidates in the 2008 presidential cycle, Gottfried, partly but not entirely in jest, has gone so far as to advocate a ?Leninist? voter-strategy for people seeking to avert and nullify the Democratic Party?s mindless platform of undefined, but perfectly well understood, ?change.? A dose of left-wing ?change,? Gottfried argues in a 2008 Takimag contribution, will act like a bath of ice-cold water, bringing about a sober readjustment at the first off-year election. Perhaps these things shall be. In any case, one cannot omit Gottfried?s penchant for playing provocateur from the description of him. No doubt but his underscoring the positive merit of figures suspect on the Right belongs to that penchant.

Hmm… In the next election cycle, I doubt the GOP will be able to take advantage of the inevitable failure of Obama’s “stimulus” package. But Paul would certainly not consider it a great victory if they did, that is, if the Republicans got back on top due to the unpopularity of Democrat policies that are only slightly more leftist than the GOP’s own. One can hope, however, that a window of opportunity does open for the Alternative Right once things start to get really, really bad. 

I was also drawn to Bertonneau’s discussion of Gottfried’s “Nietzscheanism”:

Apropos of Nietzsche, in response to the question of what the author of The Genealogy of Morals might offer to contemporary conservative thought, Gottfried points to ?the master?s discussions of slave morality and its post-Christian manifestations in socialism, democratism, and feminism? as being apposite to accurate diagnosis of modernity?s dysfunctions. The reversal of normative judgment that Nietzsche called slave morality, in which a pleading rhetoric makes of demerits virtues, Gottfried, in his analysis of contemporary stultification, sees reincarnated in modern liberal guilt, with its self-flagellating, antinomian, pathology-excusing obsessions.

At the same time, Gottfried finds himself ?less than enthusiastic about Nietzsche?s attacks on Christianity, which,? as he says, ?provided the moral and cultural foundations of our civilization and of Nietzsche?s.? Nevertheless, ?it would be impossible to understand the affinity of western societies for current forms of slave morality [without] looking at the Christian residues informing them.? Thus like Nietzsche?and like Eric Voegelin and Ren? Girard?Gottfried takes liberal piety for an abandonment of mainline Christianity that reverts to the ?exaggerated ascetism? and militant exceptional-doctrine advocacy against which Saint Paul inveighed in his epistles. ?The hatred for one?s ancestors and the exaggerated asceticism that I see in early Christianity find their counterpart in the current efforts to abolish gender differences and to treat the entire history of the West as a bigoted abomination until the arrival of the anti-racist, antisexist reformers.?

It’s worth pointing out that Nietzsche was acutely aware of his reliance on the Judeo-Christian tradition (and for Nietzsche, if not for Razib, Christianity was at its core Judaic.) As I highlighted in my Nietzsche/Mencken piece from last December, the “Anti-Christ” wrote explicitly,  ?[E]ven we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith, ?that God is the truth, that truth is divine.?

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