Here’s an excellent, brief, 2018 essay about the trend – especially among a group of Catholic scholars in America – to dump liberal democracy for theocracy. Shadi Hamid’s focus is fundamentalist Islam, but his argument applies as well to the emergence, here, of intellectual briefs for what UD calls a Cathophate.

Ol’ UD remains truly shocked right down to the ground that respectable American academics openly argue for a future of religious tyranny in this country, of “Christian authoritarianism — muscular paternalism, with government enforcing social solidarity for religious reasons.” I mean to say that the moment I grasped what Adrian Vermeulen and Patrick Deneen and company were about, I was fucking gobsmacked, and I still am. I’m still all of a mucksweat about it. I’m like in permanent Margaret Dumont shock.

Chalk it up to UD‘s naivete + emotional instability if you like, but I actually don’t get why all sentient Americans aren’t shitting themselves over being told by Mariolatric Madoffs that they need only invest in the Edmund Waldstein Radiant Future Fund to realize Total Happiness Now and Forever. God does not want you for an Individual Liberty friend! In Bondage and Submission lies Salvation!


Whew. Hold on. Getting a little hot here…

… Margaret Dumont only pretended to be scandalized by the twisted Marx Brothers; similarly, maybe UD‘s sublimating her actual erotic attraction to The Story of O, Saved by Flagellants… ? To the idea of a total male total priesthood running their switches over her bum… ?


Yet. As Hamid asks, “Is a lack of meaning really worse than a lack of freedom? … What liberalism’s critics appear unable, or unwilling, to address is whether a lack of meaning is a worse problem to have than a lack of freedom.” Maybe liberalism – “the political order that privileges non-negotiable rights, personal freedoms, and individual autonomy” – issues in some degree of conceptual confusion, and maybe even in a difficulty or refusal to commit oneself to clear philosophical/theological convictions – but is this really so unbearable a position to be in that one’s only option is rule by monks who think burning heretics at the stake is key to good governance?

“Endless free choice,” as Deneen disparagingly calls it, is a dead end. Choice needs to be a means to something else, but to what? Legally based religious systems—which only Islam among the largest religions potentially offers—quite consciously seek to restrict choice in the name of virtue and salvation…

And that’s the thing. Deneen can argue all he likes about the disabling side effects of individual liberty, but what he’s really about is damnation or salvation. The Medieval Church wafts you upward; free thought’s an express train to the abyss.

As the doorbell ringers at the beginning of The Book of Mormon put it: Have fun in hell.

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7 Responses to “‘[Michel] Houellebecq is among a growing number of Western intellectuals flirting with anti-liberalism: Perhaps liberalism is not the unmitigated good most of us are raised to believe it is. In an odd way, though, liberalism’s critics end up saying more about the resilience of liberalism than its demise.’”

  1. Rita Says:

    Do you think a parallel trend is taking place on the left, perhaps with a religion-surrogate, or is this current anti-liberalism unique to the right?

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Hi Rita: Foucauldians and other revolutionary haters of Enlightenment come to mind as a parallel. But fanatic destructive revolutionary fervency in pursuit of a purity, an ideal – salvation on the religious right; global justice on the left – is I think the common thread. In Mr UDs words, they share a non-negotiable depth of opposition to the world as it is, mixed with deep desperation as an emotional condition – something drastic needs to be done. Satanic forces have overtaken the papacy! — The madness of Archbishop Vigano. All SF public schools (including one named after the evil turncoat Dianne Feinstein) must be renamed! — The madness of the SF school board.

  3. Rita Says:

    I would not have thought of the SF school board, who seem more like incoherent regurgitators of ideological pablum here than its progenitors. I was thinking more of John McWhorter’s description of anti-racism as a crusading religion, which also meets your standards (though I guess, like McWhorter, I don’t believe the emotional desperation is sincere, at least not in the way it’s presented publicly, though there may be an underlying desperation separate from the constant public declarations of harm and trauma). But if that’s the case, then aren’t really a whole lot of respectable American academics plunging off the deep end? There are about five integralists in academia and you can name ’em all, but dozens (hundreds?) of leftist anti-Enlightenment nutters. What is shocking or even new about this moment? The integralists are new, but the Foucauldians have been around for decades.

  4. Greg Says:

    Democracy is a process. Do we live by the results of that, because living that way is a truly fundamental moral/political good? Or do we live by that, because we expect it to lead, over some reasonable stretch of time, to the best practically possible outcomes – independently and more fundamentally regarded as good outcomes. The first seems hardly plausible to me. I wouldn’t want to, or feel obligated to, live by plutocratic, inegalitarian, or by Nazi racist values, even if somehow I lived in that sort of crazy town. I would think resisting right. That’s exactly what the Republicans did in pursuit of their own twisted, greedy, often sadistic and anti-humanitarian values, if we can call them that. (Perhaps “desired outcomes” is more accurate than “values.”) But I am willing to make the judgement that their values are wrong and mine are right, though it’s always good to feel and think things through periodically just to be sure. I think that there is no way to ensure that a process leads to the right values. For the longest time, we had a compromise of good and bad outcomes that was sufficiently net good and stable and thus preferable to shaking things up and seeing what happens. The array of things that might happen was not net good, considering probability of each possibility. That gave the status quo some middle-term legitimacy in my view. All of that changed, or was changing, under the Shit Head President. If it is possible to return to status quo anti, then not my dream world, but fine. If, on the other hand, a small, but potent, majority can hijack us to really bad outcomes – or even if that group grows to an actual majority – then the fact a process leads to those independently bad results is not enough for me to warrant compliance, were I to person-up and act in a morally brave way. The problem of is the perennial one that others, even morally serious others, will have their own views different from mine. Stalemate? With a lot of luck and reasonable compromise, maybe not. But then maybe.

  5. Spell-challenged Greg Says:

    Yikes! Please read “anti” above as “ante.’ Thank god I did not write “auntie.” Were proofreading a gladiatorial sport, I, long since, would have bled out on the floor of the Colosseum.

  6. Aging Immigrant Says:

    Rita – I am writing to let you know you are not alone in your assessment of the sorry state of academia. There is an undeniable religious fervor tied to the neoracial conceptualization of our society. Jodi Shaw has neatly summarized her experience at Smith College, which generalizes to faculty, staff and students on campuses across the nation. Most are cowed into silence for fear of retribution, others make perfunctory public statements to further insure them against accusations of heresy. How many really believe the pablum? It’s impossible to know – that is one of the secret methods that enable those pushing a doctrinal authority.

    I think in ten years we will be looking back upon this current era as one of the lowest points in academia. The thinking that because elements of systemic racism can be identified, it explains black underachievement is simplistic: The logical connections are weak, and the far more powerful driving factors are simply ignored. That’s why, as you say, it is akin to a religious belief. One would think academia is where such flimsy ideas would be debated. UD refers to some of the most demanding zealots as “rads” but they are simply the most vocal members of the sect, taking its ideas to their logical ends.

    To go a little further, the wrongheadedness about the “fixes” the faithful are imposing represent a terrible misread of human psychology. They assert that *unconsious* implicit biases (of which only those of white people cause harm, apparently) is the driving destructive force for society today, so training to correct such biases is required (despite lacking evidence of efficacy). However, the obvious consequences of such a formulation, i.e., the development of a *conscious* open-ended victim mindset and the accompanying paranoia and narcisstic hyperattentiveness to personal slights (among both the “oppressed” and many “oppressors”) will inevitably lead to more social conflict. I witnessed this myself in my institution, where black faculty have left implicit bias training near tears with frustration that they will forever be judged by their skin color by their colleagues. This feeling emerges despite daily objective evidence that everyone is working and playing together amicably. I fear the only way out of this mess is for more black academics to join McWhorter in his efforts to point out the inevitably destructive path we are on in the current faith-based academe.

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Aging Immigrant: Many thanks for the comment. I don’t know if you’ve seen this commentary from Bret Stephens:


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