Although I enjoyed Alan Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind,” Paul Gottfried has some critical suggestions as to why I might have enjoyed it.
The truth is that I’m still fairly conflicted, internally, about this entire topic, in part unsurprisingly so, because of mixed Catholic and Protestant background (going back to the second trip of the Mayflower), and probably also because I grew up around so many urban Jews, in a family that had fallen into lukewarm and poorly-observed Episcopalianism.
When Bloom declaimed against the hippies and potheads in his tracts, Christian America rose to his defense as a man of the Right. Never mind that Bloom was a flagrant homosexual and possibly a pederast—an erotic predilection that first comes out in print in the novel Ravelstein (1999), written by Saul Bellow, a close friend of Bloom. Personally, I am still hard pressed to find anything in Bloom’s defense of America that sounds even vaguely “Right Wing.”
Ryn also observes that Catholic intellectuals gravitate toward Straussian teachings, a fact that I dwell on in my book with greater thoroughness.
It is clear that real Straussians, as opposed to Catholic wannabe Straussians, are blatantly contemptuous of revealed religion, particularly Christianity, and work persistently to wash out any religiosity from those political philosophers they profess to admire. By the time these plastic surgeons finish with Plato, or any other thinker whom they claim to be able to interpret with an unmediated view of the past (Straussians do not recognize historical distance), they’ve turned their subjects into far different beings from what they likely were. As I quip in my book, Straussian subjects—including the ancient Greeks–are usually made to look like Jewish agnostics living in New York or Chicago and attending synagogue services once a year.
But the Catholic goyim love the Straussians because they yap on about “morals” and “civic virtue.” They even occasionally, while blatantly ignoring the facts, try to identify Strauss and his disciples with medieval scholastic thought.
Even more importantly, says Ryn, Catholics recognize in Straussians figures who share their own “alienation” about living in a predominantly Protestant country. As Canadian philosophy professor Grant Havers documents in a forthcoming book about the studied avoidance by Straussian interpreters of America’s Protestant heritage, Straussians provide a narrative about the American founding that make ethnic Catholics feel secure about their Americanness.
According to the Straussians, America was founded on secular, materialist and democratic principles, but in no way on Protestant ones. Thus, if the Straussians try to de-Christianize and de-ethnicize America, they also conveniently cover up the Protestant aspects of a specifically American tradition.
Catholic Straussians (of whom there are many in Conservatism, Inc.) feel safe living in a “propositional nation” and “global democracy” in which they don’t feel threatened by the real American Protestant(and/or Northern European) American past, extending back to the colonial period. It’s more convenient to jettison such associations for the vision of a constantly changing hybrid society that is held together by universal, egalitarian propositions.
Go ahead and read the whole thing.
Some similar issues come up often in our political circle, especially as it relates to Moldbug’s “hypercalvinist hypothesis” of the history of American leftism.
Also, politically speaking, it’s useful to portray yourself as acting in the general interest of a nation, even when you’re acting in your particular ethnic-religious interests.
If we took the perspective of a space alien, which we can’t, but let’s get a little “ayy lmao” for the purposes of this blog post, Gottfried complains about an alliance between American Catholics and neoconservative Jews against the WASPs.
From the alien’s perspective, watching his scanner from orbit, occasionally visiting earth to mutilate cattle and probe the citizens, it might look like a lot like a factional conflict going back hundreds of years.
If we go back to the earlier 20th and 19th centuries, we saw a lot of inter-ethnic conflict between WASPs and Catholics. We know that the particular form that Darwinism took, politically, was hostile to Catholic life, even as the American Protestant state was importing enormous numbers of Catholics (many of whom were fleeing the German Kulturkampf or one interminable Irish conflict or another). American universal education was, in large part, a de-Catholicization program to bring Catholics in line with American Protestant cultural norms.
One major reason why there was such a major reaction to Darwinian theories as applied to humans (and implemented in eugenic policy) is that many of those policies were targeted to Catholics in particular. So it is perhaps less surprising, in that context, to understand why so many of them were happy to join in the post-war suppression of Darwinism, and its eventual replacement with human-biological-Lysenko-Gould-equalityism.
Gottfried (himself Jewish) tongue-lashes Catholics for allying with another group against another which they have had historical conflicts with. Why should this be surprising? If we were speaking about a foreign country, seeing the mutual enmity would be easy.
But in America, we are all supposed to throw up a facade of tolerance, to pretend like we are all in this project together, which we aren’t. The Know-Nothings arguably understood this, but the weight of democratic incentives outweighed that understanding.
That does not mean that Gottfried’s critique is not correct, nor that his criticism of the Straussian neoconservatives is not entirely on point, nor is it incorrect that Catholics have probably made a strategic error in aligning themselves with neoconservatives.
Also, none of this would probably be surprising at all to Gottfried, who could probably run circles around me in any discussion.
Attempting to move towards a more neoreactionary perspective, this is why I would say that democracy causes so many problems between religious and ethnic groups. It’s a good additional reason to reject the notion of the ‘proposition nation,’ which the original settlers of the country failed to reject when it might have made a difference.
Moldbug, for his part, does not engage in any sort of denial of America’s essentially Protestant and English stock.
In the light of contemporary context, it’s easier to understand why John Adams locked up and exiled foreign subversives. At times since then, it sometimes appears like America has been a battleground between essentially foreign subversives, not to mention rivalrous native factions, so much so that the founding stock has diminished to a residue, and with that residue, so have the founding political, cultural, and religious traditions.
The rejoinder to this is that, when Catholics do become aware of the country’s founding traditions, it tends to make them profoundly uncomfortable, and then even more subversive, but in different ways relative to alignment with neocons. I know that Gottfried is not trying to support the “melting pot” metaphor here, but it is another reason why that notion was poorly conceived.
It’s enough antagonism to make one’s head spin, and regardless of what or who is right or wrong on the topic, the fact remains that there is little that continues to bind Americans together, whether in philosophy, belief, blood, or even financial interest. Whatever there might have been to conserve has been squandered. What remains is to search for a better way.