James Kalb has written an interesting essay at Intercollegiate Review titled “Out of the Antiworld.” The “antiworld” is an interesting way to characterize the modern liberal order which is the main governing ideology in the Western World today. Kalb’s essay is basically an overview of the nature of the current political regime, why this current regime is hard to fight and hard to escape from, the different political camps that have developed as part of the overall modern liberal worldview, the rebellions against modern liberalism that have shown up so far and why they are ineffective, and then finally to approach the question of “what is to be done?”.
The “antiworld” is a world without God or what I call the “Superior Power.” I have a particular definition of what I mean by “Superior Power” that is meant to be compatible with both a religious and an atheist world view.
“The Superior Power is defined as that which creates the order of life and imposes meaning upon life and determines what the nature of life is. Furthermore the Superior Power is external to human will and above human will and cannot be altered by human choice either individually or collectively. In addition the Superior Power possesses moral authority and therefore is an entity one is obligated to obey.”
The key feature of the “antiworld” which James Kalb describes is that it is a world lacking in the concept of a Superior Power. The antiworld denies the reality of a Superior Power and therefore denies reality itself as reality comes from the Superior Power in the first place. This is what makes such a world “anti;” such a world is anti-reality, anti-truth, anti-rational, and most importantly anti-moral.
Kalb presents social conservatism as the central theme of effective resistance to the modern liberal order. The strategy for promoting social conservativeness is to stick to basic principles of social conservatism while advocating the social conservative point of view and to not let oneself get sucked into going along with the reigning modern liberal paradigm. The key point about the social conservative point of view is that it is founded on basic fundamental truths of life; its central premise is the need to obey the Superior Power or in more explicitly religious terminology the duty to obey God. God is the basis of social conservatism; this is what makes social conservatism true and good.
The modern liberal view however rejects the Superior Power or God as the ultimate source of truth, it instead claims man and man made institutions; particularly government; to be the creators and arbiters of truth.
A criticism I have of Kalb’s essay is that it seems to view the “ordinary man” as being under the control of the “managerial liberal regime” as if ordinary people live their lives according to how the “elite” tell them to live their lives. There is definitely a “mainstream culture” and a world view that the mainstream media promotes and I would agree that this dominant cultural paradigm is much like how Kalb describes it where the central moral imperative is “maximizing equal satisfaction of equally valid preferences.”
As Kalb puts it in his essay:
“Given such a view [“that there is no God or objective moral order that can be relied on”], the uniquely rational approach to social order is to treat it as a soulless, technically rational arrangement for maximizing equal satisfaction of equally valid preferences. That principle claims to maximize effective freedom, but it narrowly limits what is permissible lest we interfere with the equal freedom of others or the efficient operation of the system. Private hobbies and indulgences are acceptable, since they leave other people alone. So are career, consumption, and expressions of support for the liberal order. What is not acceptable is any ideal of how people should understand their lives together that is at odds with the liberal one. Such ideals affect other people, if only by affecting the environment in which they live, and that makes them oppressive. If you praise the traditional family, you are creating an environment that disfavors some people and their goals, so you are acting as an oppressor.”
The thing is, people have the right and ability to choose whether to go along with “the liberal program” or not. Yes there is a dominant liberal culture that seems to think that truth is whatever they declare it to be and then it is so because they said it is so. The ordinary person however doesn’t have to go along with this. Just as much as there is a modern liberal order that is very real free will is an even more fundamental reality. The modern liberal order will not last forever but free will will remain. The exercise of free will at the individual level is then how God will ultimately assert His authority over human affairs.
There are two different ways one can see the cultural reality around us. One is the political scene. What the elites of society believe in and advocate, what changes in the law are happening, what the most important political movements in society are and what they think, what the cultural messages are in the media and entertainment and in public schools and colleges.
There is however another way the issue of what is going on in the culture can be approached; that is by looking at social statistics to see how well people’s lives are functioning in real life and how that level of functioning is changing over time.
The cultural beliefs and practices of a society are related to the functioning level of a society but they are not the same thing. People can behave in a way that is more functional than what their stated beliefs would imply. Also people’s behavior may change even while their professed beliefs remain the same. It seems the main purpose in trying to change what people believe regarding cultural matters is to change how people behave regarding cultural matters; to replace unhealthy behavior patterns with healthy behavior patterns. The idea being that correct belief leads to correct behavior which then leads to positive outcomes.
If one looks at the political scene, particularly the mainstream dominant component of the political scene, the news is pretty much universally bad. It should be kept in mind though that dominant mainstream politics is not the whole picture, it is not even the most important part of the whole picture; it is instead simply one part of the whole picture, one indicator out of many indicators.
Kalb starts out his essay saying:
“Recent liberal successes, such as the ongoing redefinition of marriage to include same-sex relationships, dramatize the failure of social conservatism in public discussion. What is most striking to conservatives about the situation is the conviction among intelligent and influential people that conservative social views are altogether baseless, so that adherence to them is an intellectual and moral vice.”
This observation that Kalb is making is true but irrelevant. Social conservatism is losing the public debate but it is winning in the realm of people’s private behaviors and I view the realm of private behavior as being more important than the public debate. I don’t really mind losing the public debate intellectually if my beliefs and values are being more and more reflected in people’s actual behaviors regardless of what they claim to believe in public. This is what is going on. People’s views are becoming more liberal but their behavior is becoming more conservative; more socially conservative. Social conservatives are winning the argument even while we are humiliated and publicly derided in the public square.
This may seem like a preposterous assertion for me to make. The assertion however is based in what I am seeing regarding social statistics and particularly the change in social indicators over time. The direction of change in social indicators is getting better across the board. Looking back historically there has been an expansion in the number of social indicators that are either declining more slowly or in some cases even outright improving. This indicates that even the social indicators not noticeably demonstrating any improvement right now will likely be showing improvement in the future. The first important social indicator to show outright improvement was women working; fewer women in the prime working years of 25 to 54 years old are working today than was the case at the peak of women working in 1999. The next round of important social indicators to show outright improvement appears likely to be the out-of-wedlock birth ratio and the incarceration rate. These indicators have either already seen their peak (2009 for the out-of-wedlock birth ratio and 2008 for the incarceration rate) or they will be seeing their peak in a couple of years. In future decades the indicators already showing improvement will be accelerating in their rate of improvement and additional indicators currently in decline will be first slowing in their rate of decline and then transitioning into outright improvement. This is the pattern that has been seen so far and I expect this pattern to continue going forward.
So I think what is going on in the political scene is a lagging indicator and misrepresents what is truly going on in the culture at large. I would agree with Kalb that social conservatives need to stick to their principles and not accept the overall liberal worldview. I think the focus should be on promoting a conservative world view; in particular teaching others the importance of God and the natural order and how the reality of a Superior Power that is to be obeyed impacts on moral decision making in everyday life. This is how we can all do our part in bringing about the end of the “antiworld” a little more quickly and a little more painlessly.