Reno’s contention is that World War II drove people nuts, and that the insanity we see out the window now is the direct result of actions taken to prevent a recurrence of the mass bloodletting of the war.
There is truth in this.
There is also some boomer exaggeration, as when (and at the very beginning), Reno, discussing the fears of recent times, said “Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had recently invaded Kuwait, annexing that sovereign nation in a manner reminiscent of Hitler’s aggression in the 1930s.” It’s very unlikely Hussein, if left unmolested, would have, say, moved on France. Perhaps he would have gone after another certain and beloved Mideast country, but there was no danger of a global conflagration.
Still, the fear at the end of WWII among some was real enough. Curiously influential people like Karl Popper pushed the Open Society, so that we could “break free from [our] ‘collectivist’ impulse…and ‘set free the critical powers of man.'” Western civilization would “attain self-critical maturity with courage and determination”, a happy land in which we could break free from of “medieval authoritarianism” and in which “[o]nly the individual is sacred.” Yet instead of a bursting forth of brilliance, the second half of the Twentieth Century was more like Satan’s chains being loosed. Making each individual’s will sovereign turned out not to be a good idea.
Popper was only one of the mid-Century’s leading intellectuals pointing the way to “openness” and “freedom”, but all of them shared one thing in common, a trait which Reno captures in abundance, but which he never explicitly noticed. Self-contradiction.
Every theory promulgated by these thinkers crashed in on itself. It was one snake of a scheme after another eating its own tail.
Take Rawls, for instance, who “insists that we should not govern society in accord with metaphysical claims (‘comprehensive doctrines’).” Yet this is a metaphysical claim and comprehensive doctrine with which Rawls would govern society.
Popper’s infamous falsification theory is also self-defeating. “According to Popper, the strong truths are strong gods. They command our loyalty rather than being open to critical questioning and empirical falsification.” Which itself was a doctrine to which Popper commanded loyalty, and which could not be empirically falsified, and to which he demanded obeisence.
Here are Frenkel-Brunswik and Adorno with their Authoritarian Personality authoritatively warning us against authority, particularly the authority (Reality) that “‘rigidly’…supports ‘the dichotomous conception of sex roles and moral values’.” Adorno would have us renounce all metaphysical claims—not including his own, of course.
Hayek said “we must resist anything that compels our choices, even holding at arm’s length the compelling character of solid and significant moral truths.” Except this one. Hayek said that we ought to “marshal political and social pressure to bring individuals into conformity with what is purportedly good for us. If we allow ourselves to think of the common good”, as Hayek is contradictorily doing in this passage, “we are on the slippery slope to socialism and collectivism, the road to serfdom.” Instead, and obviously, the opposite has come to pass.
Harvard’s University post-war Committee on the Objectives of General Education in a Free Society “returned again and again to the vexed question of the proper role of inherited culture, always resorting to circumlocutions to avoid strong, anchoring words such as ‘truth’ [preferring] ‘meaning’.” Yet there is no meaning without truth.
Freud embraced the consent fallacy. Leaders of the Great Books project thought books should speak for themselves, but who decides the books which are great? They said that readers should figure out meaning for themselves, but then agreement about who is right and who wrong is impossible.
Camus “portrays all forms of transcendence as a moral betrayal”, except his own, naturally. Reno well recognized “Milton Friedman was an American version of Albert Camus…Both were enemies of transcendence.” Friedman said that “we allow too much morality into politics, we risk ‘religious and civil wars’.” That conflicts arise over fundamentals is true, but it is impossible for the government to operate without morality. It can only claim, as ours does (except about Democracy itself), that it is utilitarian and without fixed morals. But utilitarianism is a fallacy. It always hides its morals and pretends they aren’t there.
Friedman’s lousiest prediction was that the “market reduces the strain on the social fabric by rendering conformity unnecessary with respect to any activity it encompasses.” In his favor, he wrote that when HR departments were still call Personnel, and before there were corporate-sponsored “Pride” parades.
Derrida—it strains the imagination that anyone ever took this man seriously—said “It is forbidden to forbid!” Instead of condemning this for the self-refuting idiocy it is, the “learned” marveled and claimed it was a great discovery.
Heidegger thought all “truth-claims are historical”, except this truth claim. And so on and on and on. Not a single “thinker” Reno exposes did not contradict himself.
Reno also reviews why architecture is so hideous; e.g. “celebrating the transgression”, except, of course, for the transgressions against the peities of the elite, which are punished.
Besides the politicians and philosophers, there were also a slew of theologians who took Christ out of Christianity, another contradiction. Vattimo said “It was a signal characteristic of ‘hermeneutic philosophy’ to say we can no longer believe in something rather than arguing that it is false.” This is Popper’s self-refuting philosophy all over again.
However, this Vattimo, following Barth, made what I think is an excellent prediction. In Reno’s summary: “We know the Kingdom of God has arrived when the church no longer exists. It will be a sign that boundaries between the scared and the profane have been erased: God is in all, and all are in God.”
The self-refuting nature of the Open Society must become obvious to all. Transcendence must be restored to its proper place. But people will still want to get away with what they’ve been getting away with. So they will define themselves as “God.” Not as God Himself, but as the recipient and holders of moral wisdom. God, or the Universe, made me this way, therefore what I do is sacred.
This will not be the relativism from which we are emerging. These will be the strong gods of a new myth. Burnham was right: “no culture survives without strong gods.” Remember: Those who refuse to say this is right must bow to those who will.
This new myth will arise, and is arising, first in our elites, who are even now busy severing, or trying to sever, ties with the past. Part of this is purely mercenary. They don’t care about rampant immigration, and they despise patriotism, because they block avenues for them to increase their riches. “The entire political establishment, left and right, in Europe and the United States, endorsed the expansion of global capital markets and the promotion of free trade.” For their own benefit. “Our center-left leadership class will promise to subsidize working-class consumption,” hoping to benefit from it, “but it won’t reorient the global economy toward their employment.”
There are among the masses sparks of what some (including Reno) are calling populism. That’s a risible claim, though, especially in democracies. You only hear that curse when the people begin doubting their elites. “More and more voters in the Wests sense this strange inability among our leadership class to affirm their loyalty to the people they lead.”
“How dare they,” is the elite response. “They are populists.” You never hear the curse when the people are doing what they are told (and what might even be right). “Populism” is the price to be paid when everything is up for a vote.
There is also the opioid crisis, and much else that is wrong, all of which can be traced to a death of the old gods and old myths. People need to have strong gods to follow to maintain their vitality. And it is best if these strong gods is the strongest of all gods. People, most of them, rightly desire to be led and to be loved.
Just you remember the fate of all democracies. When the people have had a belly full of the lies, falsehoods, broken promises, insults, hardships, and just plain bullshit, they will abandon their “leadership class” and choose to follow someone else.
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