Book review

Return of the Strong Gods by Rusty Reno Reviewed

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.

Not that it applies everywhere, as when (at the 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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Categories: Book review

10 replies »

  1. I had not heard of this book before your review but I very much enjoy this kind of post war analysis. I am adding this book to my reading list, Thank you.

  2. “God, or the Universe, made me this way, therefore what I do is sacred.” So serial killers, rapists, pedophiles, theives, murders, arsonists, etc, are all SACRED and should not be jailed.

    “Just you remember the fate of all democracies.” They become hellholes of a caliphate for decades or centuries. Hey, it’s what people want and beg for. All of history proves this.

    Mass stupidity always leads to hell on earth and we are stupider than the cavemen were (we will try and pet saber tooth tigers). It’s not looking good. I don’t think WW2 did this. It began in the 60s as a result of affluence. Affluence kills human morality and makes people very complacent. This allows the affluence to easily be elimated, by the Green Gods or by killing capitalism, and poverty and misery will reign, allowing the dictators to rule for possibly centuries. Until America, all of the world was ruled, not free, and it will be again. Humans are too stupid and lazy to rule themselves. Misery and death is always better than freedom and light. History proves this.

  3. “Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had recently invaded Kuwait, annexing that sovereign nation in a manner reminiscent of Hitler’s aggression in the 1930s.”

    Saddam was the equivalent of a guy riding around on a goat with a grenade stuffed in his underoos but we know who controls discourse in this country and so those who have possessions we wish to possess we label Hitler to try and justify whatever in hell we desire to do.

    Not Mao, not Stalin – Hitler.

  4. The was a book by Hugh Kenner about literary criticism called “this sinking island”. He describes how the oxbridge schools tried to empirically determine the Great Books but gave up when the undergraduates had no consensus.

  5. Agree, except that Camus was a far more decent guy than most of this bunch. I mean e.g. The Plague:

    “On the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.”

    “But again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death. The schoolteacher is well aware of this. And the question is not one of knowing what punishment or reward attends the making of this calculation. The question is one of knowing whether two and two do make four.”

    “I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.”

    I like the shut up and soldier aspect of his philosophy. That the most important thing in life is to do our duties. The rest will sort itself out.

  6. There is hardly a value or prioritization of values one can imagine that some philosopher(s) endorsed.

    Socialism/communism the list is from Plato to Marx to AOC and more. Similarly long list for free market capitalism — which has more objective data supporting. This but one of an infinite list of topics to illustrate the point.

    Cherry picking philosopher viewpoints is feeble support for any view.

    Not to mention a malicious philosopher may be more capable at concocting a compelling rationale than other’s ability to ferret out its flaws.

    If one must judge, do so by actual results. Seeing a hyper liberal enclave like San Francisco becoming, literally, a sidewalk sewer shows that things under such a system are worse/ening and that system is inferior to alternatives.

    We have no need for philosophers when objective data is available.

  7. I doubt very much that Derrida ever said « Il est interdit d’interdire », even though he was a fool. See Wikipedia on this slogan.

  8. Ken’s assertion: “We have no need for philosophers when objective data is available.”

    Also known as the philosophy called “positivism”. John Maynard Keynes: “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist” (in this case “philosopher” and not “economist”).

    The problem with Ken’s assertion is that objective data has to be interpreted and you need a philosophical framework for that, whether you are aware of this framework or not.

    The big problem is that Ken’s assertion (see above) is not objective data but a philosophical assertion. So it is self-refuting like the other assertions included in the article.
    that assertion A is not an objective data

  9. The insanity is that the United States of America legally allows mothers to kill their children, born and unborn, and legally allows persons of the same sex to contract that which is defined legally, as gay marriage.
    Plus, the insanity of impeaching President Trump is also mind boggling.

    World War II was a horror for all of the families who suffered loss of their family members and friends, and, for those who suffered wounds of mind and heart and body.

    Reading Winston S. Churchill’s writings of the world wars and more, the terrors were awful. He did give praise to the bravery of both fellow countrymen and to the bravery of the enemy, and he gave thanks to God. Understanding of colonialism was as it was then, in his books, not as it is now.

    Fighting wars with drones and later from space, how much will be lost concerning the humanity of those killing and being killed, as the weapons used, take away the face to face combat. Putting one’s lance through one’s enemy’s body as opposed to using drones…..quite different. But yes, perhaps less armed servicemen killed, but maybe not!!

    All people have within them the built-in need for God which He placed in every person. How we rule or are ruled is due to choice. We can choose God, or we can choose ourselves as our own god, in which latter case, we choose our own demise until we, hopefully, come to the realization for Whom we are created. So, the philosophers who work to proclaim our worth and ways without having God as God, and just offer the things of the earth as being worth having, are offering hopelessness, because we are made for Him.

    God bless, C-Marie

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