It increasingly occurs to me how utterly pointless most of what passes for political debate is. While contemporary politics is conducted within the parameters of a certain set of debased spiritual, moral and cultural norms, engaging in the transitory arguments of this or that ‘debate’ makes no more sense than arguing about the architectural plans while the ground you are preparing to build on is made of quicksand. The only debates worth having are at a far more foundational level.
Without a diligent rooting out of all the errors that ‘progressive’, nihilistic secularism has introduced into our cultures, societies and economies, individually and collectively, we are doomed to live lives of ever greater vacuity, despair, error and futility. None of the prominent alternatives presented before us even ask the right questions or acknowledge the important things – the answers do not lie with sterile cosmopolitan left-liberalism, or the new authoritarianism of the militant far-left, or the demonic might-is-rightism of ‘MAGA’ style right wing populist brutalism.
The purpose of this article is to put forward a short sketch of the principles that might be the basis upon which we could live human lives again. I hope that the secular postliberals can live with the Catholic (in my personal case Anglo-Catholic) elements of what follows: if they can’t, tough, Christian postliberals have done enough watering down to get secularists on board already, but ultimately that is futile, as none of any of what follows makes sense without a universe created and ordered by God.
- Character and Virtue Against Bureaucracy, Rules and Legalism
The human soul cries out against the attempt to replace character, virtue and common-sense human decency with the empire of bureaucracy, the never-ending and ever-growing web of rules, regulations, orders and tick-boxes designed to create political and pragmatic order out of moral chaos. If your values are hedonism, bare existence, nihilistic self-will and the worship of mammon (however distributed), then you can spend every second until doomsday furiously working to find ever more human corners and niches and crevices to insert your never-ending permutations of soulless legislation into – it still won’t do you any good. The Mechanical Age intensifies all the time, applying its belief in the pulley, the crankshaft and the axle to ever more minute and intimate elements of life, to ever less effect, though at the cost of mounting human anguish.
Only a culture nourished upon the unblemished foundations of an uncompromising and unapologetic belief in an objective, unchanging natural moral law, which invests every person, object and institution with a healthful and rightful purpose and telos, can properly flourish. Such a culture erects upon this foundation the building blocks of true character, decency and virtue, all of which place moral chains on the formless appetites of erring individuals and give them a meaning and purpose and right-orientation that is attributable ultimately to the creative power and grace of God. Such moral chains, such boundaries and limits, liberate us from the tyranny of self-will and sin and make us truly see that the only true freedom lies in service to God and our neighbours.
- Place, the Person and Loyalty
The universal – the unchanging and unyielding and universal moral constitution of the universe ordained by God – can only, however, be accessed through the local, the actual, the particular. God has sanctified every last atom of His creation and, through His incarnation, scandalous in its particularity, has shown us that the way to the transcendent and the true and the good is through flesh and blood, the here and now, and the circumstances that His providence has thrown into our path. There is no place in the world that cannot be the site of virtue and grace and beauty, and there is no person who cannot be the means by which we, in some sense, access the divine. We learn love and charity and temperance and justice through the irreducibly specific circumstances of various institutions, including but not limited to our families, our homes, trade unions, our churches and our nations. These particularities can also pervert our morals and our virtue and our right relation to God, but, if ordered as well as we as weak human beings can manage, with the help of God’s grace, they can orientate us to the divine and the health-giving. They become the stable platforms from which we can participate in the universal, and they thereby deserve our self-sacrificing love and loyalty. Serving this immense and complex web of persons, places, beings and institutions, which is far greater than the sum of its parts, becomes our service to the common good.
- Honour and Romance
The charm and the joy and the buoyancy of these, our particular circumstances; the transcendence infused into the everyday by God in general, and more specifically in His church and sacraments; and the loyalty and awe that all of this inspires in us makes the only sane reaction to our life and this world that of a radical re-enchantment. Nihilism, determinism and materialism are literally insanity: it is no coincidence that Nietzsche ended up as gibbering madman, and it is no coincidence that no-one except the mentally unwell live their everyday lives as if such self-refuting doctrines are even partially true. The romance that touches everything, from the most humble and everyday human action to the most dramatic gesture of chivalry, is fathomless and of supreme importance. It makes squabbling and scrabbling and shouting over money-grubbing and preferment and brown-nosing and everything unconnected to true morality and honour and beauty of no consequence whatsoever. Actions that are undertaken with no regards to earthly calculation or concern, but purely because they are right and good and conduce to the purposes of God – because they embody virtue – no matter how unpropitious or even hopeless the circumstances, are always the highest and noblest thing we can aim for. Apparently hopeless or heroic self-sacrifice for others and for God can never be in vain.
- For Beauty
A major way that God touches us with His gifts and His sanctity is through His gift of beauty. Beauty brings us near the divine; it is a supremely and inherently meaningful experience in itself, but it also helps us to discern His purposes and paths for our life. Ugliness and greyness corrode the human soul and reduce us to bare life. God has endowed the world with many forms of beauty, but none of them have typically been prominent in the way we have lived our lives and ordered our societies over the past 150 years – both Soviet Communism and consumer capitalism managed to produce vast panoramas of soul-destroying disfigurement and environmental degradation. Greyness, shallow posturing and mannerism, brutalism and shoddiness are inflicted on the people, who long for true beauty. No-one stares at a modern housing estate or out-of-town industrial estate and gasps in awe, like they would do with a Gothic Cathedral or a Morris and Co stained glass window. We must banish ugliness from the lives of the people.
- Labour and Workmanship Against Speculation and Shoddiness
The point of human life is for all people and things to develop in line with their God-given purposes, to bear fruit in the form of their true, objective ends. Labour is the means by which we effect this in the case of things – the natural resources gifted to us by God. Doing a shoddy job because one has to make a living, botching a task through lack of time, doing something for the sake of it to look busy, doing something purely for the purpose of profiteering – none of these forms of labour can ever be to the glory of God and therefore they cannot be justified. True labour is carrying out a task that was meant to be, that develops something or someone’s inherent purpose or flourishing – their vocation – well, with care and diligence and attention – with true workmanship. Anything that inherently, as an end in itself, promotes human worship, virtue, joy, love, life or health is blessed as an end of labour. Anything that does not is not a valid end of human endeavour. High standards in accordance with God’s purposes and nature are their own justification. All human endeavours that do not conduce to these right ends are pointless – and worse, demonic. There is not an iota of justification in this world for producing worthless, shoddy tat; for financial speculation purely for the sake of making money out of money; for any number of things that make up the dark heart of our modern ungodly and out-of-joint economic existences. A cleaner who does a good job in mopping a floor is infinitely more valuable than any speculating spiv in the City, no matter how many millions they are paid, and no matter how badly the cleaner is treated.
- A Culture of Life
No-one owns their own lives or bodies: God does, and he intends those lives for certain purposes not of our sole choosing, within moral parameters that we must accept. Autonomy is not an absolute value: it is one of many goods, and one that is not at the top of a sane human being’s priorities. None of us are ever truly autonomous – we all depend on others – and at the beginning and end of our lives we are all particularly dependent and fragile. God gave life to all of us for a very good reason, and only He can take it away. He has placed upon us onerous duties – duties which fall particularly heavily on the strong and mighty – to ensure that all life is preserved and flourishes and that we do everything to ensure that everyone lives not lives of mere bare existence, but lives rich in health and life and the true joy of embracing our vocation and function. Abortion and euthanasia are grave sins – how many wonderful artists or scientists, how many novelists or linguists, how many human lives touched by genius, have been aborted before they left the womb? But refusing to, both individually and collectively, look after, feed, cloth, love and house every one of God’s sons and daughters is equally sinful. Life is precious and infinitely valuable; it starts at conception but it does not end at birth.
- For the Poor and the Lowly, and Against the Wisdom of the ‘Wise’
Status and wealth and the credentials given out by our society do not constitute wisdom or importance. Those who are disrespected and lowly and sneered at are more likely to be the bearers of God’s wisdom. Popular common sense, the decency and humanity of the ordinary democratic man or woman, is almost always saner than the ravings of obscurantist intellectuals. Prominence and status produce complacency, arrogance and vanity. They breed a thirst for novelty and upending steady tradition and truth for the sake of relieving their boredom. True expertise and wisdom – that of the true artist, or the scientist who makes a pioneering discovery, or the engineer who can build the best bridge, or the priest who is particularly in touch with God – are to be valued, and certainly the variety of God’s gifts and purposes implies differentiation. But the usual pattern is that of disconnected, vacuous, nihilistic elites who have reasoned themselves into positions no sane person can hold sneering at the masses, who have been more sensible all along.
These elites might be corporate vultures or they might be self-styled ‘left-wing’ radicals – they are always in their way ‘progressive’, avant garde and disdainful of virtues they cannot profiteer from, whether in terms of status or money. They like change and constant revolution because it makes them feel important and superior, and gives them the role of a privileged vanguard who is ‘needed’ to guide the hoi polloi in the ‘right’ direction. Sadly, their gambits have had much success in the past three or four hundred years, but they haven’t won yet because their values are attempting to put the round pegs of a cold and inhuman narcissism into the square pegs of human decency. Most people abhor ‘progressive’ destruction and want to hold onto the things of value – often the product of the painstakingly developed wisdom of tradition – that we already possess. They only want to change what is intolerable or abhorrent, that which grinds down their souls and makes them hunger for spiritual, aesthetic and moral nourishment – which is often a great deal, but rarely the things the false, idolatrous elites object to.
Put very simply, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent’; ‘the first shall be last; and the last shall be first’.