Thursday, July 24, 2014

The People of God

Many Christians refer to the Jews as “God’s chosen people.” If, by this expression, they merely mean “the people whom God chose to form a covenant relationship through whom He gave the world its Saviour in His Son Jesus Christ” then it reflects Scriptural truth. Unfortunately, the usage of the expression suggests that more often than not it means something like “God’s favourites, whom He loves above all other people, the treatment of whom is the standard by which God judges everybody else, so you have better be nice to them and say nothing bad about them or God will get you”. This is not Scriptural truth but a doctrine of racial supremacism. Ironically, those who are most likely to use the expression in this way are those who pride themselves the most on following the Bible rather than “man-made tradition” and on interpreting it literally rather than figuratively.

When the expression as used in this manner is taken seriously and applied to world politics it has some truly terrible implications. We recently considered religious Zionism which, contrary to the orthodox teachings of both Judaism and Christianity, identifies the current state of Israel with the Restoration Israel prophesied in the Old Testament and so gives that state its unqualified support, encouraging our governments to do the same lest they lose God’s blessing and invite His wrath. Israel is to be preferred over the terrorist organizations with which she is perpetually at war, because she is a legitimate state representing a civilized society whereas they are irresponsible madmen who aim rockets at her civilian neighborhoods from bases they put in their own civilian neighbourhoods so that when she strikes back their own women and children are killed. That she takes their bait, however, is to be attributed to the fact that she is under the control of a radical, nationalist/expansionist, faction with a growing fringe element that increasingly uses the language of racial supremacy to justify their own cause and the language of extermination about their enemies. Under these circumstances, it is insane to offer her support without qualification or condition.

The problem with this concept goes much deeper than its political implications. Scripturally, it is correct to say that God made a covenant with the children of Israel, after rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, in which He agreed to be their God, and they agreed to be His people. In making this covenant, He went out of His way to demonstrate that He was and is not just another petty tribal deity like Baal, Chemosh, Moloch, Dagon, and every other idol that the other peoples of the ancient Near East worshipped, but rather the One true and living God of the whole world. The way many Christians seem to think of the relationship between God and the Jews, however, tends to reduce God to the level of one of these tribal deities.

That God is the one true and living God and not just another idol is a doctrine established from the very first words of the Torah in which God is declared to have created the heavens and the earth – including all things which the heathen nations worshipped as gods, such as the sun, moon, and stars. The first promise of redemption in the Torah, is made not to the patriarchs of the nation Israel, but to the mother of all living (Gen. 3:15).

Therefore, when God called Abram to leave his country and go west to Canaan, promising to make a great nation out of his descendants, He said “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed”. (Gen. 12:3) a promise He reiterates when Abram, now Abraham, passes the test of his faith when he is commanded to sacrifice Isaac. (Gen. 22:18). He further repeated this promise to Isaac (Genesis 26:4) and Jacob (Genesis 28:14). To each of the patriarchs of Israel, the promise that their descendants would be made into a great nation was linked with the promise that all of the peoples of the world would thereby be blessed. God’s purpose, therefore, in bringing this nation into being and entering into covenant with them, was much larger than the nation itself, but pertained to the whole world.

After God delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, He brought them into the wilderness of Sinai and presented them with an offer. If they obeyed Him and kept His covenant, He would in turn make them a kingdom of priests and holy nation (Ex. 19:1-6). This offer was accepted and the terms of the covenant were handed down to Moses, beginning with the famous Ten Commandments which begin by prohibiting the worship of any other gods and the making of idols. These were announced to the Israelites by Moses, then written down in a book and read to the Israelites, who each time agreed to the terms, and the covenant was sealed with the blood of a sacrifice. (Ex. 24:1-8).

The overarching theme of the covenant, the details of which continue to be spelled out throughout Exodus and Leviticus and which are reiterated in Deuteronomy on the eve of entry into the Promised Land, is that God is not like the gods of the other nations, and therefore Israel is not to be like those other nations. The gods of the other nations lead their worshippers into practices the true and living God considers abhorrent, therefore Israel is not to worship those idols, or commit those practices, but is to keep herself separate and holy. To further the distance between her and the idolatrous nations, she is given detailed instructions on where and how to worship God, her own priesthood, and a set of ceremonial and dietary instructions.

Yet when we come to the prophetic literature of the Old Testament we find that it is filled with promises of a day when the nations of the world would flock to Jerusalem to learn the ways of God (Michah 4:2, Zechariah 8:22) and the Temple in Jerusalem would be a house of prayer to all people (Isaiah 56:7). Most significantly, it is prophesied that God would raise up priests and Levites out of every nation (Isaiah 66:20-21), indicating that in this day, all peoples would be God’s people.

The literature that contains these promises was addressed to the nation at the time when she was facing imminent judgement, in the form of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, after a history of violating the covenant by worshipping idols and following after the practices of the heathen. The promises are connected to the message of hope contained within these prophecies of doom – that God would break the cycle of rebellion and judgement, by sending a final deliverer, the Messiah, Who would make good on all the promises God had ever made to Israel and her patriarchs, would establish a new covenant in which His laws would be written on their hearts, and would restore them to the land promised to their forefathers.

Judaism is still looking for that Messiah, but Christians know that He has already come, and furthermore, that He has established the new covenant by the blood of His sacrifice on the cross, a fact of which we are reminded each time we come to the Lord’s Supper and hear the words with which the Lord instituted the sacrament on the eve of His crucifixion. How does this affect our understanding of the old covenant, and the people with whom God made that covenant?

There is much confusion about this due to a number of errors that have sprung up. One new doctrine, very popular among North American evangelicals, teaches that the present age in which God is working through the Church, is a parenthesis in His dealing with Israel which will be resumed after the Church is removed in the rapture. Another doctrine, teaches that God has rejected His ancient people, just as they rejected His Messiah, and that the Church has replaced Israel as the people of God. The truth, as traditionally understood, is more nuanced than either of these views.

God does not have two different covenants with two different peoples. The first covenant, the old covenant, was fulfilled by Jesus Christ, Who also established the new covenant. God’s people, are those with whom He has a covenant relationship, and since the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, such a relationship is through the new covenant.

The new covenant offers salvation from sin through the grace of Jesus Christ to be received freely through faith. The offer is made to the whole world. Anybody can receive this grace by believing in Jesus, and when they do so they are made part of the people of God. This does not mean that God has replaced His old people, Israel, with a new people, the Church.

The Church is a continuation of Israel, not a replacement for it. This is clearly what St. Paul the Apostle teaches, when he writes that the ceremonial law, which separated Israel from the Gentiles, has been torn down so that believing Gentiles are no longer “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” but “fellow citizens with the saints” (Eph. 2:11-19). In the Book of Acts we see this unfold, as Christ commissions His disciples to take His Gospel, from Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, then to the rest of the world (Acts 1:8), as the Gospel is taken to the Gentiles, and the dietary laws (Acts 10) and circumcision (Acts 15) are revealed or ruled to be unnecessary in the Church, the body of Christ in which the Gentiles are united with Israel, through faith in the Messiah. St. Paul uses the metaphor of an olive tree to illustrate how the Church is a continuation of Israel. Israel is the root and trunk of the olive tree, from which certain branches (unbelieving Jews) have been pruned, and into which wild branches (believing Gentiles) have been grafted (Rom. 11). The tree of Israel in this condition – unbelieving Jews cut off, believing Gentiles grafted in, is the Church.

When he uses this metaphor, St. Paul writes that the day will come in which the unbelieving bulk of the nation will believe and be grafted back into the tree (vv. 23-31). This clearly coincides with the Old Testament prophecies of the Final Restoration, and equally clearly makes the conversion of the unbelievers to faith in Jesus Christ the necessary pre-condition for that Restoration. The unbelieving state of Israel in the Middle East today is therefore not that Restoration, although there are good grounds for supporting that state against her mortal enemies for other reasons.

Under the new covenant, a person who does not believe that Jesus is the Christ cannot claim a covenant relationship with God on the grounds of racial descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whereas a person who does believe that Jesus is the Christ, although ethnically a Gentile, has been made a full partaker of the commonwealth of Israel. That is the orthodox Christian doctrine on the subject, and there is no support in it for the kind of racial supremacism in which Arab life is treated as cheap and worthless compared to Jewish life, which supremacism is disturbingly becoming more prevalent among Israel’s governing class, and her supporters.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Religious Zionism – Bad Theology, Bad Politics

As I have argued previously, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the sane choice, if we are forced to pick sides, is Israel, because Israel is a legitimate state, the political expression of an established, civilized, society, genuinely interested in the wellbeing of that society, whereas her enemies, organizations like Hamas, are terrorists who exploit the suffering of their own people, hiding behind them as human shields and hurling them against their foes like human projectiles. Out of this fundamental distinction two other differences arise. First, Israel is highly efficient in protecting her own people from harm and wreaking destruction upon her enemies. As a result her casualty and injury lists are insignificant compared to theirs. Her detractors have tried to use this against her but, as again I have argued previously, their reasoning does not stand up to scrutiny because the possession of strength cannot reasonably invalidate its use. The second difference is that while both sides have committed great crimes against the other in their struggle over the land they both claim as their own, Israel will on occasion take responsibility for crimes committed in her name, and punish the offenders. The only responsibility her enemies have ever been willing to take for their actions has been in the form of praise, credit, and glory amongst themselves.

Many of Israel’s defenders and supporters deny that great crimes have been committed by both sides. According to them Israel is a squeaky clean paragon of justice and virtue who never does anything wrong whatsoever. Max Boot, for example, in a very recent article for the website of Commentary Magazine, wrote:

Needless to say, the Israel Defense Forces do not deliberately target children–any more than do the armed forces of the United States or other civilized powers.

Boot does, of course, later have a point – a very good one, as a matter of fact – when he observes that it is difficult for Israel to avoid civilian casualties when striking Hamas because the terrorist organization deliberately places its rocket launchers in the middle of civilian neighbourhoods to maximize the harm to their own civilian population from Israeli strikes. True as this is, however, it is not the whole story.

The rest of the story is that over the last three and a half decades Israel has increasingly come under control of a radicalized, nationalist faction, with a vision of a “Greater Israel” in which Israel’s territory would be greatly expanded, perhaps to the Scriptural limits of the Promised Land (the Nile and the Euphrates). This faction, known as the Likud, was founded by the men who had led the Zionist terrorist organizations the Irgun and the Stern Gang in the 1940s which during the 1948 war attacked Palestinian Arab towns and villages, driving out those they didn’t massacre, with the end result being Israel’s annexation and absorption of 80% of the territory apportioned to the Palestinian Arabs by the United Nations. In power, the Likud has interfered with American attempts to establish a Palestinian Arab state, sabotaged peace negotiations with its settlement program in occupied Palestinian territory, and basically made clear by its actions its intentions to pursue the end of “Greater Israel” by the same means of violence and expulsion with which Israel seized most of the Palestinian territory in 1948. That this plays a significant part in the events currently unfolding can be seen in the Netanyahu government’s deceptive decision to withhold the information that they knew the kidnapped teenagers had been murdered and that the men who did it were not acting on official Hamas orders.

More disturbingly, in recent years even more extreme voices have arisen within the Likud faction, equating the Palestinian Arabs with the original inhabitants of Canaan (many Palestinian Arabs have, very foolishly, claimed to be the descendants of such in order to establish a claim to the land that predates that of the Jews) and calling for Israel to treat them the way the Israelites were commanded to treat the original Canaanites.

This horrendous suggestion, which thankfully, Netanyahu and the governing Likud of Israel are almost certainly far too pragmatic to seriously attempt to put into practice, is bad theology as well as bad politics. God’s instructions to mercilessly exterminate the seven tribes of Canaan was a special, one-time divine authorization of what was otherwise contrary to God’s commandment to live at peace with whoever was willing to accept a treaty with them (Deuteronomy 20), for which God, Who ordinarily does not give account of His decisions to man, gives a specific justification in the exceeding wickedness of the tribes as described in Leviticus 18. When the Israelites failed to follow through on these instructions in the initial conquest of Canaan, they were forbidden to renege on the treaties which they, contrary to their instructions, had made with the inhabitants of the land.

We find just as bad theology, although not always with such horrible implications, among religious Zionists, some Jewish but mostly Christian, in Western countries like Canada and the United States. Religious Zionists base their support for Israel, not upon the reasons I outlined in my first paragraph, but upon the belief that the modern Zionist movement and the establishment of the modern state of Israel fulfil the Old Testament prophecies of the Restoration of Israel. Religious Zionists offer Israel far greater, and much less-qualified support than she otherwise finds among her defenders. Some of them have been known to rank the well-being of Israel over that of their own country, an attitude that is sometimes called “Israel First”. Most of them take an attitude towards criticism of the actions of the government of modern Israel that would ironically, condemn the very prophets whose writings they look to for support of their position as those prophets were blistering in their condemnation of injustices and idolatry of the Israeli leaders of the time. Many of them are in strong sympathy with the positions of the Likud.

Yet the basic premise of religious Zionism is heresy by the standards of the traditional orthodoxy of both Judaism and Christianity. The Jewish Tanakh which is the Christian Old Testament does indeed prophesy a restoration of Israel. In Genesis, God promises Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He will make a great nation out of their descendants and give them the land of Canaan forever, in Exodus He delivers the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and makes a Covenant with them, the terms of which are spelled out in Exodus and Leviticus and reiterated in Deuteronomy when they finally arrive at the border of the Promised Land. They enter and conquer the Promised Land in Joshua then in Judges, the cycle of idolatry and rebellion, followed by judgement and dispersion, followed by repentance and restoration, begins which continues through the history of the united kingdom of Israel, and the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, until the latter two are swept away in the Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities the first two of three events that brought about the Diaspora, the scattering of the Jews through the nations. It is the prophets who warned of and saw these Captivities that prophesied a final restoration of Israel in connection with the coming of the Messiah and the New Covenant in which God would write His laws upon their hearts rather than on tablets of stone. In the final Restoration, like the mini-restorations throughout the entire aforementioned cycle, spiritual restoration would precede physical restoration.

This is why Zionism is heresy. The orthodox doctrines of both Judaism and Christianity require a spiritual restoration to precede the physical restoration. This was not the case with the establishment of modern Israel, ergo modern Israel cannot be the fulfilment of the prophecies. Judaism rejects the truth that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and that He established the New Covenant in His blood two thousand years ago. Therefore, by orthodox Jewish doctrine, Israel cannot be the fulfilment of the Restoration.

Christianity is built upon faith that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Christ, the promised Saviour. Yet although Christianity recognizes that Messiah has come, Israel still cannot be the fulfilment of the prophecy because apart from those who founded the Church, the nation rejected Christ which led to the third of the events that brought about the Diaspora, when the armies of Rome put down the Jewish rebels and sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In orthodox Christian theology, the spiritual restoration of Israel which must precede her physical restoration, is her recognition of Him Whom they rejected, as their Lord and Messiah. Obviously, that has not happened.

Heresy always bears bad fruit. If we equate present day Israel with the renewed and righteous restored Israel of Scriptural prophecy we are unable to provide the present state with precisely what she needs the most – qualified support, tempered by strong criticism and indeed condemnation of her actions when such condemnation is called for.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A little over a month ago three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank as they were hitchhiking home. The Israeli Defense Forces were sent in search of the teenagers and the Israeli government issued a statement saying that Hamas was behind the kidnappings. The terrorist organization which has governed the Gaza Strip for about seven years now denied the charges. On June 30th the bodies of the teenagers were found in a field near Hebron.

In the course of investigating the kidnapping, the IDF arrested about five hundred people and confiscated cash, electronics, and other goods from homes and businesses in the West Bank. A small number of Palestinian teenagers and young men were killed in the course of the investigation. In some cases they were shot by Israeli soldiers after they threw homemade bombs at them. There was at least one case of a revenge kidnapping/murder of a Palestinian youth, in which the Israeli police arrested the perpetrators shortly after.

Meanwhile, Hamas resumed their familiar tactic of launching rockets into civilian neighbourhoods in Israel from Gaza. Early in July, Israel responded to these rocket attacks by launching a series of air strikes against Hamas in Gaza and Israel remained on the offensive from the air until agreeing to a cease-fire proposed by Egypt earlier this week. Hamas rejected the ceasefire and issued a series of demands which Israel in turn rejected, and now appears to have begun a ground invasion of Gaza. Over two hundred Palestinians have been killed and close to two thousand injured. Israel has not suffered comparable losses and injuries due to the efficiency of her Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system and the incompetence of the terrorists.

All of this is merely the latest chapter in what has become for most of us, a very old story indeed, the perpetual Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even more tiresome than the conflict itself is the fuzzyheadedness of the debate over which side in the conflict is in the right. It is not a simple matter of who fired the first shot.

Those who would make a case for the Palestinians against Israel on humanitarian grounds, emphasize the disparity between the number of casualties and injuries on the two sides and the strength of the one versus the weakness of the other. It does not at all follow from this that Israel is in the wrong, however. It is bad ethics to assert that “might makes right” but it is just as bad if not worse to assert the exact opposite, which is the fundamental truth to be refined from the dross in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality. An established, civilized, country like Israel, with the resources and competent military necessary to protect its people and society from those who attack it, does not thereby lose the right to use that force against a weaker enemy.

If Israel’s strength and military efficiency as an advanced, civilized nation do not negate her right to use force against a weak enemy, they do invalidate the picture that Israel’s supporters and defenders frequently try to portray of Israel as a little David surrounded by big Goliaths. Israel, which in terms of her own region is a superpower, is by no means locked in a perpetual struggle for her own existence. The will for her destruction is certainly present among her Arab and Islamic neighbours, but these have never possessed the means to translate that will into reality and they have no realistic prospect of gaining those means anytime in the near future. They were defeated when they attacked her as a newly born nation having just gained her independence and she is far stronger and better prepared to repel their attacks today. The only real threat to her survival is the long-term demographic threat which Patrick Buchanan warned her about in The Death of the West and which Jean Raspail illustrated decades earlier in his novel The Camp of the Saints. Israel is hardly unique in this, for this is a threat hanging like Damocles’ sword over the heads of every civilized, First World, Western nation.

Indeed, the strongest weapon Israel’s enemies possess is the weapon of international public relations, a weapon armed with the ammunition of the stupidity of Israel’s own political leaders. Being justified in the use of force is not the same thing as being wise in using force. As Peter Hitchens pointed out in the Daily Mail five years ago, and recently reminded us on his blog, by using this kind of force in Gaza, Israel has done exactly what Hamas wants them to do. Hamas, like all similar organizations, is a parasite that feeds off of the suffering of the people in whose name it acts. It exploits that suffering to gain for itself the zeal and obedience of its followers and the sympathy of international opinion.

This is the truly decisive factor in the debate. Israel is a legitimate state, the political expression of an established, civilized, society, that genuinely seeks the well-being, security, and interests of the people and society it governs and represents. Hamas is an organization that preys on the people of whom it has appointed itself the representative, hiding behind them as human shields, and throwing them against its hated enemies as human ammunition. If we must pick sides, clearly the only sane choice is to pick Israel’s side.

That having been said, Israel is by no means an innocent party in this conflict. Months before the kidnappings, the most recent round of peace negotiations broke down, largely due to the Netanyahu government’s insistence upon building large Jewish settlements on the West Bank. With regards to the kidnapping, Israeli authorities knew from very early on that the teenagers had been shot, just as they knew that the kidnappers, while members of Hamas, were renegades estranged from the organization’s leadership. It does not take a genius to figure out that the motivation for withholding this information was to garner popular and international support for a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, conducted under the guise of an investigation. While one can hardly blame Israel for wanting to crackdown on the terrorist group all of this subterfuge raises the question of what role the Likud’s historic dream of territorial expansion, the “Greater Israel” concept, plays in all of this. It is difficult to imagine a reason for Netanyahu’s settlement policy in the West Bank that does not arise out of this concept, as the policy otherwise threatens the prospects of peace and Israel’s own security.

If Israel, as the legitimate state representing an established, civil society is the sane side to support in her conflict with terrorist organizations that target her civilian population while hiding behind their own the support must be heavily qualified. Just as a humane sympathy for the dispossessed and displaced Palestinian Arabs, Christian and Muslim, a noble sentiment in itself, becomes disgraceful when it is translated into justification for the terrorist actions of groups like the PLO or Hamas so support for Israel as a civilized, functional, society and state goes too far when it becomes unconditional support for all of her actions. Israel certainly is justified in taking action against the terrorists who launch rockets into her civilian neighbourhoods. The fact that those rockets have done little to no real harm due to the effectiveness of her anti-missile system does not lessen this justification. She would be wiser to exercise restraint, however, if for no other reason than to avoid giving her enemies the international sympathy they are looking for. Her friends and supporters would do well to advise her that while they support her taking the actions necessary to secure her society this does not mean that she has a blank cheque to pursue whatever other goals she wishes at other peoples’ expense.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What is Conservatism?


The Meaning of Conservatism, 3rd Edition by Roger Scruton, South Bend, Indiana, St. Augustine’s Press, 1980, 1984, 2002, 206 pp., $17

By the middle of the 1970s the Left was triumphant throughout the Western world. Marxism was orthodoxy in the university classroom even in classes where politics and economics had no discernable relevance. A battery of fraudulent new departments had been or were in the process of being launched throughout academia which purported to be devoted to the scientific study of this or that but which in reality were simply venues to allow gripes and grievances against Western civilization and its traditions and institutions, to be vented. Governments had committed themselves to the goal of reducing inequality through taxation and social programs, passed regulations and established bureaucratic agencies dedicated to the extirpation of non-egalitarian ideas and attitudes, and more-or-less declared war on those institutions which were believed to foster these non-egalitarian ideas and attitudes, especially the family and the church. They had further committed themselves to a combination of anti-natalism (sexual emancipation, birth control, abortion, etc.) and open borders, liberal immigration, that together comprised a population replacement program that bore an ugly resemblance to Bertolt Brecht’s joke about a Communist government dissolving the old people and electing a new one. Vocal opposition to this program was effectively suppressed by accusations of racism backed, in many countries, by race relations laws.. The poverty of third world countries was regarded among the intelligentsia as the legacy of European colonialism and imperialism rather than the work of the incompetent and kleptocratic dictatorships that had in so many cases replaced the imperial governments and so Western countries were expected to give large amounts of money in foreign aid to prop up those very incompetent and kleptocratic dictatorships.

Then the late 1970s saw a resurgence of the Right that in North America would manifest itself in the Reagan presidency in the United States and to a far lesser extent in the Mulroney premiership in Canada. In the United Kingdom, the resurgence began with Margaret Thatcher’s taking over the leadership of the Conservative Party from Edward Heath in 1975 and culminated in her premiership from 1979 to 1990. Thatcher’s rise to the leadership of the Conservative Party marked the end of the “post-war consensus”, i.e., the agreement of the Conservative Party leadership not to challenge, cancel or undo any of the policies, programs and changes introduced by the Labour Party that had more-or-less been Conservative policy since Clement Attlee’s Labour Party trounced Winston Churchill’s Tories in the 1945 election after World War II. After thirty years of this depressing capitulation to socialism, Thatcher’s leadership breathed new life into both the Conservative Party and the United Kingdom, but she and her ideas met with much skepticism and criticism from other Conservatives, and not just from the “Wets”, i.e., those like Heath who were ideological supporters of the post-war consensus. Statesman Enoch Powell and journalist Peregrine Worsthorne, for example, both High Tories who had little love for the post-war consensus, were highly skeptical towards Thatcher from the beginning, although both later supported her in the leadership crisis that ultimately saw her ousted both as leader of the party and Prime Minister. (1) Among traditional Tories, there was concern that Thatcherism, with its rhetorical emphasis on the free market, personal choice, and democracy, powerful weapons as these concepts were against the enemy of socialism, would replace conservatism with liberalism or American republicanism.

One Tory who had such concerns opted to express them by writing a book outlining the concepts of conservatism. This was Dr. Roger Scruton, philosopher, polymath, and at the time professor of aesthetics at Birkbeck College in the University of London. Scruton wrote The Meaning of Conservatism in the late 1970s, as the Thatcher Conservatives were preparing to take office, and it was first published in 1980, shortly after they had come to power in the 1979 election. In Gentle Regrets, the collection of memoirs in which he tells how he came to hold his views, he said that writing this book made him persona non grata in both official Conservative Party circles and left-wing academia. It was also the book upon which his well-deserved reputation as the leading conservative philosopher of our day was built.

Scruton describes his book as a work of dogmatics and acknowledges that in writing it, he was doing something conservatives are usually unwilling to do, i.e., express the conservative instinct or attitude in a formulaic fashion, except in situations of crisis. This reflects a fundamental distinction he makes between conservatism on the one hand and both liberalism and socialism on the other. Conservatism is about real societies as they exist in the past and present, whereas liberalism and socialism are obsessed with finding the formula that will produce an ideal society in the future. In this distinction can be seen the influence of the thought of Michael Oakeshott, Britain’s leading conservative philosopher of the generation prior to Scruton. Oakeshott’s influence, like that of Edmund Burke and G. W. F. Hegel, can be found on almost every page of this book, and Scruton appropriately concluded the preface to the first edition by saying that “it satisfies the first requirement of all conservative thought: it is not original, nor does it try to be”. (p. xii)

Conservatism, Scruton says in his first chapter, begins as an instinct or attitude that arises out of a person’s sense of belonging to something larger than himself, not in the sense of a cause directed towards some ideal, but in the sense of an established social order, that is older than he is and will hopefully outlast him. This order might be that of any number of institutions, such as clubs or churches, but ultimately, at the political level it is that of the person’s society, country, or nation. The conservative instinct consists of a person’s identifying himself with this order, and feeling within himself its “will to live” (p. 10). Conservatism is not, therefore, an unthinking resistance to change, but a reflective rejection of change that would harm or kill the social order, and acceptance of change that helps to preserve and continue that order. Whereas liberals and socialists see politics, i.e., the exercise of government power, as means to external ends, freedom and social justice respectively, the conservative sees society’s government, as containing its own end, the health and life of the social order.

The conservative view of society, therefore, is that it is a living organism. In his second chapter, Scruton contrasts this with liberalism’s view of society as a contract, explaining that liberalism fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between freedom, rights, justice and the individual on the one hand and society and its order on the other. Drawing upon Kant’s understanding of justice which requires that we treat others as ends in themselves and not merely means to ends of our own, Scruton explains that contracts consists of reciprocal promises between individuals, which bestow rights upon each other in the sense of a claim upon the other person to fulfil his promise. This, Scruton says, cannot be the genesis of society, because the existence of an established social order is a precondition for this kind of bargaining.

It would be absurd, he points out, to regard the obligations which parents have towards their children and vice versa in contractual terms. The bonds within a family are transcendent, beyond the realm of contracts negotiated and agreed upon by self-interested individuals, and our duty to fulfil the obligations conferred by those bonds is a matter of piety rather than justice. This is true as well, he argues, of the bonds within civil society. Echoing Burke’s remarks about the “little platoons”, he maintains that the sense of loyalty and affection that we develop early in life towards our families and home, we later extend to the other social establishments we find ourselves in, and ultimately to our societies, nations, and countries in the form of patriotism.

Allegiance is the term for this feeling of affection and loyalty, which begins at the level of the family and rises, in patriotism, to the level of civil society, and one of the most important topics in this book is the relationship between allegiance and authority. If power is the ability to command obedience, authority is legitimate power, i.e., power that is held and exercised by those with a recognized right to hold and exercise it. It is the nature of allegiance to recognize that authority, in our parents as children and in the government of our society as citizen-subjects.

Scruton dismisses the Marxist theory that the concepts of legitimacy and authority are merely ideological constructions designed to justify the holding of power by those who so hold it as being of no practical political relevance regardless of whether it is true or not. Without these concepts we are left with sheer, naked, coercive, power and so clearly we need them. It is the way in which we conceive of our society that helps us to understand it, find meaning in it, and participate in it, that is truly important to politics, and here the idea of legitimacy is vital.

The liberal view of legitimacy, however, that it can only come from a contractual arrangement, is unacceptable to the conservative for the same reasons that the contract theory of society is unacceptable and in his third chapter, in which he discusses the political expression of civil society and its binding customs, culture, and traditions in the state and its constitution, he argues against the related modern concept in which democracy is equated with legitimacy. Democracy, like the social contract, is regarded as dubious by the conservative because it “privileges the living and their immediate interests over past and future generations” (p. 47). It is only by showing respect for the dead, he argues, that the interests of those yet to come can be safeguarded in the present, and therefore for the conservative, democracy must not be absolute but subject to limitations, and must “take place in the context of institutions and procedures that give a voice to absent generations”. (p. 48). This is one reason why conservatives are historically and traditionally, monarchists, because traditional monarchy is just such an institution:

Not being elected by popular vote, the monarch cannot be understood merely as representing the interests of the present generation. He or she is born into the position, and also passes it on to a legally defined successor. If the monarch has a voice at all, it is understood precisely in the cross-generational way that is required by the political process. Monarchs are, in a very real sense, the voice of history, and the very accidental way in which they gain office emphasizes the grounds of their legitimacy, in the history of a people, a place and a culture. (pp. 48-49)

The equation of democracy with legitimacy is not the only modern sacred cow that Scruton butchers in this book. Earlier in the same chapter he showed the fallacy of the concept of human rights, which proposes the existence of rights in the absence of any tradition and social context that might secure them and give them meaning and which separates the rights people claim for themselves, from the rights they reciprocally confer on others, in which their own obligations and duties lie. Later, in the next chapter, he takes on the liberal/libertarian idea that the legitimate function of the law is limited to protecting citizens from harm and securing their rights, the “humanitarian” idea that the purpose of law and the penal system is to rehabilitate the offender, and the egalitarian concept of “social justice”. The first is too simplistic, abstract and individualistic. The law is the will of the state, the public face of civil society, and so is an expression of society’s moral consensus. The state punishes crime, the breaking of the law, in order to protect society, to which crime is an expression of antagonism. This view of the penal system, and not the idea of rehabilitation, is actually the more humane, for the rehabilitation view, by separating punishment from the crime to which it is a response and orienting it towards a desired effect in the person punished, subjects the latter to a process that has no clearly defined limits. “Social justice” is an affront to natural law and justice, being based not on the reciprocal rights and obligations that naturally arise between people in ordinary social existence, but on the unnatural ideal of equality.

In each of these cases, Scruton’s arguments against a popular modern notion, arise naturally out of his basic concept of conservatism as the instinct to maintain and preserve the health and life of the social order. This is true as well, of the arguments he presents when he turns to economics in his fifth and sixth chapters. Here he argues for private property against Marxism and socialism in general, but not on the basis of the rights and freedoms of the individual or purportedly scientific economic theory in favour of the free market, as Thatcher and Reagan did. His starting principle is that ownership is a human necessity, because it is through ownership that people are able to perceive physical objects through a lens other than desire, an essential precondition for relating to and interacting with other people in society. Property begins, he argues, not with the factory or marketplace, but with the home, where the family lives and accumulates its belongings. Marxists attack family and property together, and conservatives, who perceive natural affection in the family as the source of the feeling of allegiance that creates the bonds of civil society, must defend the two together against this attack. Scruton defends property, against the British socialist ideas of wealth redistribution as the goal of taxation policy, public ownership as a valid alternative to private monopoly in industries that are not essential public services, and the expropriation of accumulated wealth in his fifth chapter, and against the Marxist defamation of property as the source of social alienation in his sixth. In doing so, he presents the conservative position as a “qualified endorsement of modern capitalism”, rather than the unqualified endorsement of free-market ideologues, and the task of the conservative as being the preservation of the social order from the forces that threaten it in capitalism and socialism alike.

From this, Scruton moves on to offer a defense of the autonomy, not of individuals, but of institutions like the sports team, the family, and the educational institution. By autonomy he means their right to pursue their own internal ends, rather than be compelled to serve external ends imposed upon them from above, such as those of egalitarianism which is particularly destructive because these institutions, like society itself, are fundamentally hierarchical. It is through institutions like these that we participate in society, and it is the job of the state, as the governing body of society, to guard and protect their autonomy rather than to impose external ends like those of egalitarianism upon them. This leads to a discussion, in the eighth chapter, of how authority and power come together to form establishment, the conservative ideal, in both the state and the autonomous institution of society, and finally in the last chapter, of the boundaries between the public and private life of a society.

The implications for public policy of these conservative doctrines, all of which are expressions of that same basic conservative instinct to preserve the health and life of the larger self which is one’s society, are myriad, as Scruton himself says in an axiom towards the very beginning of the book. The purpose of the book was not to prescribe policy, but to express the beliefs regarding life, society, and government that arise out of a conservative frame of mind, and this Scruton has done marvellously. Whatever effect this book may have had on its author’s career, it earned him his place beside Hooker and Burke, Disraeli and Oakeshott, among the leading theorists of conservative thought.

(1) In Powell’s case the support was from the outside. He had left the party in protest over Heath’s compromises, particularly regarding the Common Market, but indicated that he would return if Thatcher retained the leadership, which, of course, she did not.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Roots of the Old Dominion


To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized needs of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future. – Simone Weil

Today we celebrate the 147th birthday of our country. It is the anniversary of the day, in 1867, when the British North America Act came into effect, which effect was to form a federation out of the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, with its own federal Parliament modelled after the one in Westminster, under the Sovereign monarch we share with the United Kingdom and other countries in what was then the British Empire but is now the British Commonwealth of Nations. Eventually, all the Crown possessions in North America would be brought into Confederation, whether as provinces like Manitoba or territories like the Northwest Territories, with the last province to enter being Newfoundland and Labrador in 1949. There are ten provinces in total. The ones that I have not yet mentioned are, in order of their entry into Confederation: British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There were two territories when I was growing up, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, but there are now three, Nunavut having become a separate territory from the Northwest Territories – which despite the plural title are considered a single territory – in 1999.

While the day our country came into being as the Dominion of Canada – the name the Fathers of Confederation chose for our country, taking “dominion” from Psalm 72:8 as a synonym for “kingdom” and not as a synonym for “colony” as the liberals, progressives, and socialists later falsely claimed – was just under a century and a half ago, Canada has roots that extend back much further. The British North America Act, enacted on this date in 1867, was signed by Queen Victoria on March 29th of that year, the culmination of a process of negotiation that had taken almost three years, beginning with the Charlottetown Conference of September 1864 and carried on through Conferences in Quebec and London, with plenty of discussion and negotiation taking place outside of the official conferences as well. Even this period of negotiation was merely the latest and ultimately successful stage, in the idea of creating a federation of the British colonies in North America, an idea that had been proposed several times earlier in the nineteenth century. Its revival in the 1860s and perhaps its success was in large part due to fear of the United States.

This fear was well-founded. The United States had invaded Canada in the war she fought with Great Britain from 1812 to 1815. In this war, Canadians had fought to repel the American invaders from their homes and communities and were ultimately, with the help of the British military of course, successful. Due to this success, the war which ended more-or-less in the preservation of the status quo ante and thus a stalemate as far as Britain and the United States were concerned, is, ironically yet accurately, traditionally regarded by Canadians as our victory over the United States, even though, technically, our country was not yet officially born. This victory became a key element of our country’s founding mythology – not mythology in the sense of “stories that are untrue” but in the sense of “stories that help a people to understand and identify themselves”. Here, therefore, is a root of the tree of the Canadian Dominion that extends back to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

It is not the deepest root, nor is it the only reason that the fear of an American invasion on the part of the Fathers of Confederation was well-founded. American politicians had been talking about their vision of “Manifest Destiny”, i.e. the destiny of the United States to rule all of North America, for most of the nineteenth century. Then the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency of the United States split the American republic into two warring factions. While Britain was officially neutral, Lincoln’s actions generated tension between London and Washington, and there was a great deal of sympathy in Britain and in both the English and French speaking parts of British North America, not for the slavery which the Northeastern Yankees used to justify their cause – slavery had already been abolished in the British Empire and Canada had been one of the destinations of the “Underground Railroad” prior to the war – but for the Southern states who were, after all, merely giving to Washington a taste of the medicine that Washington had dished out to London less than a century prior. Out of this sympathy we gave sanctuary to Confederate officers just as we had given sanctuary to the escaped slaves before the war. Late in the war, Confederate agents were sent by Jefferson Davis to Canada to conduct covert operations against the North. Although these were mostly unsuccessful, it was deemed prudent by the leaders of the colonies of British North America, to form a federal union that would be able better to resist American retaliation.

In the history of the relations between pre-Confederation British North America and the American Republic we can see another root of the Canadian Dominion extending back to the Rebellion of the Thirteen Colonies. In that eighteenth century conflict, the leaders of the Thirteen Colonies had, citing various grievances against the British Imperial government, declared their independence from the British Empire. Not all British colonies joined in this rebellion, nor did everyone in the rebelling colonies support the rebellion. At the time the term Canada referred to a French colony that had been conquered by the British in the Seven Years War, and ceded to the British Crown by the French at the end of that war. Britain had promised the people of that colony, in what is now Ontario and Quebec, that they could keep their Roman Catholic religion, French language, and way of life, in return for loyalty to the British Crown. Canada did not join in the American rebellion and in the conflict, many of the American colonists fought on the side of the British Empire against the rebelling colonies. These Loyalists faced persecution, including loss of home and property, both during the war and after the rebels gained their independence and so many of these fled north to the loyal British possessions of Canada (Ontario/Quebec) and Nova Scotia (which at the time included what is now New Brunswick).

The division between the rebelling colonists who became the Americans and the Loyalists who became the first English Canadians was in part a reflection of political, philosophical, and even religious differences with roots in the English Civil War of the seventeenth century and ultimately in the English Reformation of the sixteenth century. The American colonies, especially those of the Northeast, had been strongly influenced by Puritanism, a form of English Calvinism that believed that the English Reformation had not gone far enough and that wanted to purify English Christianity of every vestige of the Catholic tradition that could not be shown to be directly authorized by the Scriptures, and which tended to be republican and anti-royalist politically. One of the real reasons for the American secession was this Puritan influence, for the ideological descendants of the men who put King Charles I to death, accusing him falsely of trying to bring England back under the yoke of the pope because he rejected the ecclesiastical reforms they demanded and their demand that he persecute the co-religionists of his French bride, were naturally not pleased that King George III guaranteed the people of Quebec their French language and Roman Catholic religion.

The leaders of the rebel colonies justified their secession from the British Empire by accusing Parliament and the king of tyrannical behaviour and by appealing to the doctrines of liberalism, a modern political dogma that asserted the primacy of the individual and his rights, the contractual nature of society, and government legitimacy based upon democratic election. The Loyalists preferred the government of king and Parliament that they had, over any experimental government to be put together by the kind of men who would use baseless and false accusations of tyranny in order to stir up rebellion and revolution. The American revolutionaries had an inclination towards experiment, innovation, and breaking with tradition and the past to pursue progress in the future. This would very much reflect itself in their national character as it later developed. The Loyalists, as the name by which history knows them would suggest, were more inclined towards sticking to the tried and true, and the older classical virtues such as loyalty. This was later reflected in the national character of Canada.

There are strengths and weaknesses to both of these approaches but one of the strengths of the philosophy that helped shape our national character north of the 49th is that it has allowed our young country to have very deep and extensive roots. The dynamic, progressive, innovative philosophy that has played so important a role in the United States is a philosophy that severs rather than nourishes roots. Thus, while our American friends and neighbours might be able to point to the events that established the Roman Republic in the sixth century BC as a classical antecedent of their own founding, this is more a case of what Nietzsche called “eternal recurrence” than of any organic, rooted, connection. By not severing our ties with Britain, but practicing the virtue of loyalty, and developing into a nation in our own right within the existing tradition, we were able to build a country with roots as long and deep as those of Britain herself.

French Canada, too, due to the timing and circumstances by which it was removed from the French Crown and joined to the British, was able through most of its history to maintain an organic, rooted, connection to the ancient French tradition from which, ironically, France attempted to sever herself in the even more extreme revolution she underwent less than a decade after the Americans won their independence. Thus, until very recently Quebec was in some ways the most conservative of the Canadian provinces and while this conservatism was focuses more upon the French and Roman Catholic language, religion, and culture that tend to set the province apart from the rest of the country, back in 1937, decades before Quebec rejected many of her own roots in the “Quiet Revolution”, when Maurice Duplessis was premier in the French province, Stephen Leacock was able to write that it used to be said that “the last shot fired in defence of British institutions in America would be fired by a French-Canadian.” (1)

There are those today, who would dismiss all of this as ancient history, and question what any of this has to do with the land of beer and hockey, the Canada goose and chocolate mousse, maple syrup and poutine, in which we live our everyday lives today. It is a good question, especially since the Liberal Party, with the full support of the New Democratic Party, with at most an extremely mild and moderate resistance from the Conservatives – more often complete capitulation and accommodation – has striven hard since 1963 to dig up these roots, haul them out to the old scrub pile, and burn them, while attempting to replace the healthy tree that grew from them with a sickly substitute. Nevertheless, I hope and believe that there is enough life left in the old tree, and that enough of the old roots remain, that she may one day be restored to full health.

Happy Dominion Day!
God Save the Queen!

(1) This was in My Discovery of the West. He went on to say: “It looks now as if there would be one more shot after his. It will be from the gun of an American whose name will be something like John Bull McGregor. His people will have been among the McGregors of Mississippi and the Bulls of the New York police: so he won't miss what he shoots at.” He was referring to American immigrants to Western provinces.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

No Need to Apologize, Gary, You Got it Right the First Time!


At one time you would occasionally see a man wearing a T-shirt with the phrase “I read it for the articles”. The “it”, in question was Hugh Hefner’s men’s magazine, Playboy. The statement was a joke, intended to provoke, whether spoken or not, the response of “yeah, right you do”. For the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the name of that magazine, or sees its familiar rabbit’s head logo, is the photographs of nude models and celebrity actresses that have been its selling point since Marilyn Monroe’s appeared in their premier issue just under sixty years ago.

It was an amusing joke but I found it funny for entirely different reasons than the ones intended by those telling the joke. The only reason anybody would feel compelled to offer such a lame excuse for buying a girlie mag is societal and cultural disapproval of such erotica, which disapproval more or less vanished within the same decade the magazine was launched. What I find downright hilarious about it all is that it was the articles all along which were the most disgusting and evil thing about the magazine. It was in the articles that Hef’s morally corrosive message of sheer, self-serving, pleasure-seeking hedonism, i.e., “The Playboy philosophy” was preached, poisoning the souls and minds of those who read it. By comparison, the pictures were considerably more wholesome. “I only look at the pictures” should have been the more respectable thing to say.

I mention all of this because a recent Playboy interview has made the news and, judging from the content of the interview, the angry response it has received and from whom, this would appear to be the first article they have ran that was actually worth reading since their interview with William F. Buckley Jr.

The interviewee was British actor Gary Oldman. He is a well-known actor with whom it is probably safe to say most people are familiar. He first became famous with his portrayal of Sid Vicious, the bass guitarist of the Sex Pistols in a 1986 biographical film. At one time he was best known for playing bad guys, like Count Dracula in the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola version of the story or the madman in Hannibal (2001) who made Dr. Lecter look sane and sympathetic by comparison. More recently he played Commissioner Gordon in the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films, took on a more Sirius role in the film versions of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and put on a Smiley face to star in the film version of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He will next appear in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, scheduled to be released next month.

So what did Oldman say in this interview with Playboy's Contributing Editor David Hochman to twist so many people’s knickers up into knots and over which he has taken on the new, humiliating role, of self-debasing perpetual apologiser?

Towards the end of the interview, Oldman makes a remark about how he can understand why Mel Gibson would want to finance his own movies, leading the interviewer to prompt him further about this, at which point he goes off on a rant about political correctness, about how it is crap, and how people can’t take a joke anymore. Going back to Mel Gibson he says “I don’t know about Mel. He got drunk and said a few things, but we’ve all said those things.” Expanding upon that last remark, he questions whether the policeman who arrested Gibson has never used racial epithets, and says “It’s the hypocrisy of it that drives me crazy.” He then defends Alec Baldwin over the incident where he called someone who was harassing him a “fag” before again returning to Mel Gibson and saying:

Mel Gibson is in a town that’s run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he’s actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him—and doesn’t need to feed him anymore because he’s got enough dough. He’s like an outcast, a leper, you know? But some Jewish guy in his office somewhere hasn’t turned and said, “That fucking kraut” or “Fuck those Germans,” whatever it is? We all hide and try to be so politically correct. That’s what gets me. It’s just the sheer hypocrisy of everyone, that we all stand on this thing going, “Isn’t that shocking?”

Shortly after this he tells Playboy that the interview has gone badly and that “You have to edit and cut half of what I’ve said, because it’s going to make me sound like a bigot” which, of course, they did not do.

Well, there you have it. The Anti-Defamation League immediately denounced Oldman’s remarks as “anti-Semitic.” It’s notorious director Abraham H. Foxman said “it is disturbing that Mr. Oldman appears to have bought into Mr. Gibson's warped and prejudiced world view” and Oldman wrote a grovelling open letter of apology to the ADL. Foxman’s response, predictably, was to say that it was not good enough. “At this point, we are not satisfied with what we received. His apology is insufficient and not satisfactory.” On Wednesday, Oldman appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live to apologize yet again.

Well, listen up Abe Foxman and you listen up good. You did not deserve a single word of apology from Mr. Oldman because he had every right to say what he said, and moreover he was right in saying it. We all remember the incident in which Mel Gibson was arrested for drunk driving and went into an anti-Semitic tirade. Some of us, remember what preceded that incident. Gibson’s arrest was in July of 2006. Two years previously he had released the movie The Passion of the Christ, a film that you, Foxman, had complained might spark “anti-Semitism” because its portrayal of events of Christ’s trial and crucifixion was true to the New Testament. Some of us also remember, Foxman, that your pogrom against Gibson began before you had ever seen the movie. The year before the film came out you went to Gibson expressing “concern” that the film might be anti-Semitic and then acted shocked when he turned down your request for an advanced viewing of the film. Oh, I am sure you were very polite and civil in your request. I’ve read your ex-post facto self-justifying account of how you “reached out” to Gibson. Look up the expression “concern troll” to see why I am not impressed. I also remember that at this same time Gibson’s father, Hutton Gibson, an ultra-traditionalist Catholic was being dragged through the mud in the press over his unconventional views of the Holocaust. Perhaps you expect us to believe you had nothing to do with that? Well I’m not about to buy your ocean front property in the middle of the desert either. Gibson, from his remarks to the press at the time, was clearly under the impression that somebody was putting pressure on him to denounce his father. It is not that difficult to put two and two together and come up with a pretty good idea as to who that might have been. To expect a man to turn on his own father to appease your wrath is the kind of arrogance for which I find the Greek word hubris to be insufficient. Lets call it chutzpah shall we?

When someone is put through all that nonsense it should not shock or surprise us if negative feelings towards the Jews start coming out when he gets drunk. Frankly, it would be more surprising if they didn’t. Oldman was absolutely right to come to Gibson’s defense and, rather than apologize, it would have been better if he had directed some of that colourful language he used in his interview in the direction of the Anti-Defamation League. For that is all that the ADL, which has for far too long gotten away with cloaking its bullying behaviour under the guise of “reaching out” and its Christophobia behind the mask of “tolerance”, deserves. As for what he said about who runs Hollywood, in its haste to evoke the old “old anti-Semitic canard” canard against Oldman, the ADL and its like-minded supporters perhaps failed to notice the lack of the definite article before “Jews.” Had Oldman said “in a town that’s run by the Jews” it might have been anti-Semitic, i.e., the idea that the ethnic group as a collective is in charge of Hollywood, but he said “in a town that’s run by Jews”, which merely suggests that the people in charge happen to be Jewish. In Hollywood, that is a basic and obvious fact. See Neal Gabler’s An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood which, according to Oldman’s grovelling letter he has just been reading, or Ben Stein’s article of a few years back entitled “Do Jews Run Hollywood? You Bet They Do…And What of It?”

What a pity that Oldman did not stick to his guns when he was right all along.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Patriphobia


Once again it is Father’s Day and once again I am both pleased and moderately surprised that we are still allowed to celebrate it, that it has not been cancelled, banned, or renamed as outdated, sexist, and completely unacceptable to the progressive, forward thinking, spirit of the day. For the spirit of the day is nothing if it is not completely and utterly patriphobic.

You can see this patriphobia everywhere you look. It is there in the way television shows and movies routinely depict fathers as arrogant and incompetent buffoons who are constantly being shown up by their much wiser and humbler wives and children. It can be seen in the misandrist, vaginocentric, readings of literature, culture, and history to which our unfortunate students are subjected in the halls of higher learning and which are becoming more and more ubiquitous in primary and secondary education as well. It is clearly there in how we have been re-writing and re-interpreting our laws and administering our social programs in such a way so as to render fathers a superfluous and perhaps even unwanted appendage to the reduced nuclear family of mother and children.

Sadly, it can also be seen in much purportedly pro-fatherhood material put out by well-meaning Christian groups. Such groups, in response to the alarming increase in fatherless families over the last few decades, rightly wish to promote fatherhood. The problem is that they often uncritically accept the feminist narrative in which the blame for the fatherless family is placed entirely upon the failure of men to face up to their responsibilities as fathers.

To be sure this is a part of the problem. It is far from being the whole story, however. It is hardly fair to say that fathers who have been barred from having any contact with their children by vindictive mothers backed by sympathetic courts – and there are more than a few of these – are all “deadbeat dads” who refuse to grow up and face their responsibilities. Furthermore, while it would be wrong to excuse fathers who do shirk their responsibilities it must be pointed out that the hostility of the present cultural climate to fathers and fatherhood is a strong disincentive to assuming that role and those responsibilities. Yet more often than not it is the same individuals and groups that have done the most to generate this toxic patriphobic atmosphere who try to place the entire blame for the growing epidemic of children being raised without their fathers upon paternal abandonment.

This all started several decades ago when marriage law was rewritten to facilitate divorce. Marriages, in which a man and a woman solemnly vow to be forever loyal and faithful to one another, are traditionally alliances between families and sacred covenants blessed by the church. For everyone involved, couple, families, and church, marriage was intended to be a permanent union and the law of the land was expected to support and uphold that, rather than to provide an easy way out. Until very recently, to get a divorce you had to sue your spouse and prove that the marriage had been broken by infidelity and even then the culture strongly encouraged you to try and work things out rather than seek a divorce.

This changed after the Second World War when the civil authorities of Western countries came under pressure to streamline and expedite the divorce process. In the forefront of the various groups clamouring for easy divorce was the feminist movement. The feminists made their demand for easy divorce on the grounds that an escape route was necessary for women trapped in abusive relationships. Feminist ideology, however, would suggest that there was a deeper motivation. Feminism was and is strongly antagonistic towards marriage and family, its aversion being based upon a Marxist reading of the history of the relationship between the sexes as one of an oppressor class (men) and an oppressed class (women). Marriage and the family were regarded as instruments of this oppression, despite it being quite evident that if there was any oppression in these traditional family arrangements it went in the opposite direction, and it is telling that the feminists chose to call the societal structure and arrangements they opposed, the patriarchy, a term which denotes the authority and rule of fathers. The feminists did not think much of motherhood either, regarding domesticity as yet another tool of the male oppression which thwarted the clear intentions of destiny that all women be CEOs and cabinet ministers , and insisting that women be given unlimited access to abortion and state-funded daycare. There is one exception to feminism’s generally anti-mother attitude, however, and that is when the interests of the mother come in conflict with those of the father after divorce.

With the introduction of easy, no-fault, divorce, came the dilemma of what to do about the children of broken families. The feminists insisted that custody should be awarded to the mother, along with alimony and child support payments that were often not easy for the father, who now had to maintain himself in a separate home from his children and former wife, to pay. If the father failed to make the payments he would be cut off from all access to his children. The courts, in part motivated by the vestigial traces of chivalry, tended to agree with the feminists.

So many fathers now found themselves exiled from the lives of their children after their wives obtained easy divorces and full custody of the children with expenses that were more difficult to meet now that separate establishments were involved. If they failed to meet these costs their vindictive ex-wives would refuse to let them see their children and would often try to poison the relationship between the fathers and their children by badmouthing the former to the latter, telling them what a “loser” and a “deadbeat” their father is. To make matters worse, the feminists had also demanded that the authorities clamp down on domestic violence, which was and is certainly a real problem, but one of which the feminists painted an exaggerated, distorted, and extremely one-sided picture. Today, feminists continue to cling to the idea that domestic abuse is always or almost always male-on-female, despite the fact that this idea has been thoroughly debunked and women have been shown to be just as likely – some studies suggest more likely – to initiate violence as men. The courts, however, accepted the picture painted by the feminists and, again perhaps motivated by a vestigial chivalry that refuses to consider the possibility of manipulative deception or anything less than spotless purity on the part of a woman, developed a presumption of guilt against any man accused of violence towards his wife and children. Thus, if an ex-wife was feeling especially vindictive, she could accuse the father of her children of abuse and obtain a restraining order against him which would effectively ban the father from his children’s lives upon threat of jail time without having to provide any substantial evidence. The very threat of making such an accusation became a weapon in her hands.

The injustice of all of this has been challenged by the father’s rights movement since the 1980s and many corrections to it have been made. Unfortunately, the system towards which we are moving in which divorced parents have equal shared custody and equal access to their children, while better than the one in which children are pawns in a battle between warring exes is not a step back towards what we really need, a system where the culture and law again support marriage and the family. For children need both their father and their mother, and not separately, but together. Likewise our society needs a culture that honours and respects fathers, rather than alternating between mocking them as buffoons and preaching at them over their shortcomings.

Happy Father’s Day.